Late round draft prospects are always difficult to nail down. Just when you think someone has done enough to warrant consideration, they don't get selected. This doesn't mean the end of a career in hockey. There is the next year (or two) for the draft. Plus, scouts look at players beyond the draft. Playing well in a spot where one gets noticed may be enough for a team to take a chance. That's the hope for 19-year old Edmonton Oil Kings winger Edgars Kulda.
Who is Edgars Kulda?
Edgars Kulda is indeed the younger brother of Winnipeg defenseman Arturs Kulda. Edgars plays forward and transitioned from Riga's junior team to the Western Hockey League in 2012-13. After spending most of the season in the bottom section of a stacked team, he got the opportunity for a bit more ice time in the postseason. He at least got hot enough to show that he can certainly contribute. In 2013-14, Kulda got more ice time, moved up in the lines to play with the likes of Curtis Lazar and Brett Pollack, and racked up a few points shy of a point per game pace. His production blossomed in the postseason to a point per game pace, earned WHL Player of the Week honors as Edmonton smashed Portland in the WHL Finals, and currently is featured in the Memorial Cup. Again, he's producing in a big light. Kulda is not very big, though. Elite Prospects lists the Latvian winger at 6'0" and 179 pounds.
In addition to turning it up in his second season in the Western Hockey League, Kulda has been representing his nation at the youth international level. He made his U-20 debut in the 2013 WJCs, but didn't really do much. A division lower and a year older, Kulda made more noise in the Division 1A WJCs in 2014. I suspect senior representation is only a matter of time, but that does depend on the depth of the roster.
What Others Have Said About Kulda
Kulda was born on November 13, 1994, so he was actually eligible for the 2013 draft. Red Line Report's Kyle Woodlief briefly mentioned him in this May 2013 article at USA Today. It's a good summary of his postseason emergence with the Oil Kings last Spring.
Easily the most pleasant surprise of the WHL playoffs was the last-minute emergence of Latvian winger Edgars Kulda for Edmonton. Kulda, with 14 points in the playoffs, came close to equaling his regular season points total of 17.
During the very limited fourth-line viewings we had of him early on, we expected more from the import, considering his style of play suits the North American game very well. But he was absolutely buried on the deep roster of the defending WHL champion Oil Kings, so subpar results were no surprise. However, his chance came later than expected after early postseason injuries to teammates propelled him into an energy role, and Kulda embraced the opportunity.
Producing regularly on the third line, Kulda showed a solid foundation from a strong core that enabled him to make plays in contested areas driving through traffic. He has adequate hands and good offensive instincts. Considering only two first year draft-eligibles (the highly ranked Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand) produced more points in the WHL playoffs, we could easily see a team taking a flyer on the rapidly developing Latvian.
That did not happen, of course. Based on his point totals, one can conclude that Kulda still has some "adequate hands" and "good offensive instincts," as they blossomed through 2013-14.
Again, the hope is that his big production in the WHL playoffs and his continued work in the Memorial Cup will get him more notice. Terry Jones wrote about this very notion in this May 15, 2014 article in the Edmonton Sun. Here's a snippet:
"I think it’s a great opportunity to elevate your draft status for some of our draft-age players we have here and even a 19-year-old like Eddie Kulda," said [Edmonton coach Derek] Laxdal.
"It’s a chance to make an impression in front of some of the general managers coming in for this event, GMs who haven’t seen you play during the regular season and the playoffs. It’s a chance for some of the scouts who have been following you to say ‘Hey, watch this player’ and ‘What do you think?’
Laxdal and Jones aren't wrong that the Memorial Cup is a showcase event and it can help turn some heads. However, I wouldn't bank on Kulda being regarded as this high-end prospect. When Central Scouting Services released their rankings, he didn't get a mid-term rank and was listed as 145th among North American skaters.Those rankings did come out before the WHL Playoffs concluded as well as the Memorial Cup. But despite the bigger role in Edmonton during the season, CSS at least didn't think too much of it. It makes headlines like this one from NHL.com a bit of an eyebrow-raiser.
A Little Video
Back in November, Shaw TV had a small feature about Kulda. In it, you'll hear from the player himself, coach Laxdal who notes how he's been used in all situations in 2013-14, and a bit about Kristens Pless' influence:
An Opinion of Sorts
While this may change after the Memorial Cup, there hasn't been much written about Kulda the player. So it's a bit hard to really have a kind of grasp of what kind of player he could possibly be. Perhaps that's the issue with this 19-year old winger. It appears he had a strong season. He got more ice time, played on special teams, and scored 30 goals. While it's not his fault that Latvia was demoted to Division 1A, he did well in that WJC. In the postseason, Kulda sparkled with Edmonton and was one of the WHL's top playoff scorers.
Of course, players aren't drafted for strong seasons alone. It's about whether their skills can translate to the next level. That Kulda is a year older may be a mark against him, since he is a bit closer to realizing his potential. Moreover, I really wonder how much of his scoring production is a function of who he's playing with. He played on a team featuring Henrik Samuelsson, Curtis Lazar (who he definitely played with), and Mitch Moroz - all who outscored Kulda. It's one thing to have a great season in junior - and Kulda certainly did - but how much of his production came from things he did? He scored 30 goals; was it more of a function of a high shooting percentage or a lot of shots? Did he do it against the opposition's tough players, or were those taken by other Oil Kings? By the by, Brett Pollock may have benefited too, but being a year younger and skills that may project better, he's a certainty to get picked unlike Kulda.
Basically, I'd love to get more thoughts from those who have seen him play and his skills as I'm left with many questions. Is he a good skater? Can he defend at the next level (he was on Edmonton's PK, so maybe)? Would his shot work at the next level? Could he be better by putting on more muscle? But, again, the biggest one to me is: how much of his strong 2013-14 campaign was a result of his actual game? If a team thinks a good portion of it is and there's some room for him to grow as a player, then a late pick in the draft may be be warranted. Again, maybe there will be more about Kulda once the Memorial Cup ends today. More that may clear things up. It'll likely include his performance against London, per this Ryan Wagman article at Hockey Prospectus. Yet, at the end of the day, he's still a prospect who will turn 20 next season who had a very solid season on a very strong junior team. Those prospects tend not to get picked all that high. Hopefully, he'll be picked at all.
What's your own opinion of Kulda? Do you have the same questions I have about the winger? Have you been able to see him perform with Edmonton either last season or this season? If so, what did you think? Would you want the Devils to draft him if he's available? Do you think any team will draft him this year? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Edgars Kulda in the comments. Thank you for reading.