As the Canucks prospects hit the ice in Penticton, they’ll be joined by several undrafted and unsigned invitees looking to earn a contract from the Canucks or at least catch someone’s eye for future consideration.
There are all sorts of different types of invitees. There are the late bloomers that never got a shot; players drafted by another team that never got a contract; players signed to AHL contracts looking for an NHL chance.
You also tend to get some local players, those that play in the Canucks’ own backyard or are from the area. The Canucks have sometimes been criticized for ignoring players in their own backyard. You could point to not drafting many players from the WHL in the past or more recently passing over Ty Ronning of the Vancouver Giants.
They have, however, extended invitations to a couple Giants players to come to their prospect camp: Owen Hardy and Kaleb Bulych. I covered Hardy earlier in the week, so the subject of today’s invitee profile is 18-year-old defenceman Kaleb Bulych.
Kaleb Bulych – Right Defence
6’3″ – 185 lbs – Jan 25, 2000 (18)
Vancouver Giants (63-1-8-9)
Bulych has had tastes of WHL hockey since he was 16. He played 5 games for the Giants in 2015-16, then 12 more in 2016-17. Finally, in his draft year, he played the full season. While nominally a third-pairing defenceman, but occasionally had to take on a lot more responsibility, as injuries seemed to strike the Giants’ defence all at once at times.
With just one goal and 9 points in 63 games with the Giants last season, Bulych didn’t make enough of an impression on NHL scouts to get drafted. It’s easy to see, however, why the Canucks sent him an invite: size, skating, and passing.
While Bulych still needs to add some weight and muscle, he has a good frame to work with at 6’3”. That’s above the average height of an NHL defenceman and it makes him taller than every defenceman in the Canucks’ prospect pool aside from Nikita Tryamkin and Guillaume Brisebois, who is also 6’3”.
That size means nothing, of course, if you can’t skate, but that’s not an issue for Bulych. His skating is one of his biggest strengths and the first thing mentioned in his scouting reports.
Future Considerations calls Bulych a “powerful skater,” who “can move very well.” They further note that he has good “escapability” with the puck and has the mobility along the blue line to keep the puck in and create shooting lanes.
According to Hockey Prospect, Bulych is “speedy” and they praise his “ability to side step and take the puck aggressively up ice.” That speed and mobility is going to be key for Bulych if he wants an NHL future.
In recent drafts, the Canucks have emphasized both speed and skill, and Bulych does have a little skill to go with his skating ability. Namely, Bulych is a strong passer.
He’s particularly good at long breakout passes, hitting forwards in stride with quick, accurate feeds. His passing can create quick counter-attacks from the defensive zone and he generally looks to pass first in the offensive zone.
“Made a couple impressive breakout passes to break pressure,” reads a Hockey Prospect scouting report from February. “He’s really accurate and showed tonight [he] can relieve pressure with both his passes and his skating.”
Those three attributes — size, speed, and passing — make him worth a closer look in Penticton, but there are some concerns. After all, there’s a reason he wasn’t drafted.
Scouting reports point out his weak shot and lack of offensive creativity, which explains the low point totals. A big slap shot isn’t always necessary for a defenceman, but being able to get the puck on net with speed and accuracy is key to creating opportunities for deflections and rebounds.
“At this stage, he’s simply not an offensive factor,” according to Future Considerations.
Defensively, while he has good feet and angles opposing forwards towards the boards well, the concern is that he isn’t aggressive enough. “He could be a little more aggressive and keep his gaps tighter,” says his Future Considerations scouting report, which also notes that he has the skating ability to do so.
Hockey Prospect takes issue with his physical game, noting that the strength just isn’t there to go with his big frame. “He gets a pushed around easily and bumped off the puck...Has trouble boxing out players around his own net and doesn’t do a great job clearing traffic.”
Those are some legitimate concerns, but they’re also potentially fixable. Adding some more strength and weight will help him in board battles and around the net, while also making him more confident to engage physically.
It’s unlikely that Bulych would earn a contract with the Canucks this year, but the raw tools make him an intriguing target in the late rounds at next year’s draft if his 2018-19 season shows some solid steps forward in his development.