Montreal Canadiens: Brett Kulak, The Underappreciated Defender

MONTREAL, QC - FEBRUARY 08: Brett Kulak Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QC - FEBRUARY 08: Brett Kulak Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

The trade deadline has come and gone and one player who is not a member of the Montreal Canadiens anymore is defender Brett Kulak. He was traded to the Edmonton Oilers for a second round pick, seventh round pick and defender William Lagesson.

Put it simply, this is a homerun for Kent Hughes and the Montreal Canadiens. Well, as much of a homerun that can be made with the major piece being Brett Kulak. Lagesson is 26 and has played 57 games in his young NHL career.

He will be nothing more than a bubble player that adds some basic depth to the team. It is a similar position that Kulak has been in in Montreal the past few years. It is a downgrade, but Montreal is still in the running for the first overall pick this year, and the Seattle Kraken got pretty bad this deadline.

The big draw is the second round pick. Since Lagesson can somewhat hold the same position as Kulak, it is almost like a free second round pick, which is really good. It is conditional, but will more than likely come this year. If the Oilers reach the Stanley Cup Final with Duncan Keith playing top 4 minutes, that pick will go to Chicago, and Montreal will get Edmonton’s second round pick in 2023.

It would be nice to get the second round pick next year, the deeper draft, but a second round draft pick has a pretty good chance at becoming an NHL player, and getting that for Brett Kulak is great. Lagesson is just the icing on the cake.

Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports /

Especially when you compare what Montreal got Kulak for. Kulak was drafted 105th overall, in the fourth round of the 2012 draft by the Calgary Flames. Kulak made his debut in the NHL in 2014-15, but only played 30 NHL games over the first three years of his NHL career. But in 2017-18, Kulak made the Flames full time and played a career high 71 games.

Then Brett Kulak was traded to the Montreal Canadiens for Matt Taormina and Rinat Valiev. Both Taormina and Valiev have not played a game for the Flames, and don’t look like they will any time soon. So two non-roster players for a few years of a decent defender and eventually a second round pick. Great bang for your buck.

Because, unfortunately, Kulak is not a great NHL defender. He is perfectly serviceable in a bottom pairing, but will likely never get out of that position. He has had some success playing with Jeff Petry, but how much of that was Petry pulled Kulak up?

And that is why I don’t think that Kulak will find success in Edmonton. The Oilers have a shaky defense group led by the offensive defender Tyson Barrie, the elder Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci. Kulak proved in Montreal he does best with a good partner, but I doubt he will find one in Edmonton. He isn’t defensively sound enough to cover for Barrie, or good enough to cover for Ceci’s deficiencies in everything.

But Kulak has seen some strife already in his career. Kulak has frequently been a healthy scratch in his time in the NHL. Such is the life of a bubble player, yet he has never complained or asked for or demanded a trade.

It is one of the hardest positions to be in in the NHL. Sure, it is hard and a lot of pressure to be a top line player or starting goalie, but you know that you are playing most or all of the games. Sometimes a bubble player may not know if they are going to play in a game until the day before, or the day of.

Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports /

For example, last year Michael Frolik was signed in the offseason by the Montreal Canadiens to add forward depth in case of injury. Except the Canadiens had a pretty healthy 2020-21, and only Corey Perry got onto the roster regularly. Frolik only played 8 games and registered no points.

The long wait did not suit Frolik, and he even blames the team for ruining his NHL career.

It is really hard to sit out for any period of time and then be asked to come into a game in a moment’s notice. And yet that is what Kulak did for the Montreal Canadiens for three years without outwardly complaining at all.

It must have been a tough three years for Kulak at times, and perhaps he would have gotten more ice time and steadier minutes on a different team, but he remained in Montreal. Hopefully he can thrive and flourish in a bigger role on the Oilers, playing with two of the best players on the planet. He deserves it.

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