Fulcher sees opportunity knocking
When the Detroit Red Wings first came at Kaden Fulcher with a contract offer, the goaltender for the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs was taken aback by a combination of shock and awe.
An undrafted free agent playing for Detroit in the team’s prospect tournament last fall in Traverse City, Mich., in the back of his mind, Fulcher was hoping to impress, but he didn’t allow himself to entertain the notion that he’d be impressive enough to garner a pro pact.
“It was a pretty big surprise, to be honest,” Fulcher admitted. “I was going to camp as a free agent. You don’t really expect much.
“I think at the end of the day I went in there looking to earn a contract, obviously, but I don’t think you really understand how hard it is. I think just going in and not having any pressure on me was pretty big.”
He’s carried over that belief shown in him by the Wings into a transformative season for both him and his team. The Bulldogs are bound for the OHL championship after whipping the Kingston Frontenacs 4-1 in the East final, and the 6-3, 182-pound Fulcher, 19, leads the postseason in wins (12) and goals-against average (2.35).
“Not a lot of guys on our team have had team success in the years in the OHL,” Fulcher said. “Everyone’s pretty excited for this opportunity. We’re just going to make the most of it.”
Returning to junior with an NHL contract in his pocket certainly motivated Fulcher to have a career year.
“It’s definitely huge to know that they’re making plans for you,” Fulcher said. “I think as a player, you just try to make sure that every day you show up at the rink at the OHL level, that you want to keep putting in the work to get to that next level.
“I think getting a little taste of it at the prospect tournament and the main camp, you see just how good everyone is, and how good you’re going to have to get to get there.”
A big, athletic goalie who is known his acrobatic saves, Fulcher spent the summer seeking to correct some of the areas in his body of work that he felt needed to be addressed. He mapped out a plan of attack by conferring with Hamilton goalie coach Bill Dark and a number of former NHL players.
“I think over the summer you kind of take a look at the game a little bit differently,” Fulcher said. “You kind of realize that you’ve got a long way to go and maybe you start thinking about the game differently.
“Sometimes you’ve got to take a step back to take a step forward, so I think over the summer, just letting go of a few things really helped me. I think it’s just all about the mental game when you are a goalie. You can’t really stress about your games too much.
“You kind of realize that you’ve got to manage your ice time better, how much you’re in the gym better. It’s not only about working hard. It’s about working smart.”
Beyond Jimmy Howard, the Wings currently have no other experienced NHL goalie under contract. The organization will need to make decisions on veteran minor leaguers Jared Coreau and Tom McCollum, who are both unrestricted free agents. Minor leaguer Matej Machovsky opted to return to his home in the Czech Republic.
That leaves the door open for prospects like Fulcher, Keith Petruzzelli, Filip Larsson and Joren Van Pottelberghe to make a path for themselves into the pro ranks.
“Yeah, it’s definitely a great place to be,” Fulcher said. “I know in talking it over with my agent, he asked whether I wanted to hold off, or did I want to go with Detroit?
“Looking at their roster, talking to all the management they had there at camp, it just seemed like it was going to be the perfect fit for me. I don’t think I could have got luckier.”
If Fulcher sees Wings prospect Givani Smith in the OHL final, the Kitchener Rangers will have gotten there without him.
Smith was to sit out Monday’s seventh game of the West final after he was handed a one-game suspension by the OHL for making an obscene gesture at the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds bench during Game 6.
Sweden released its roster for the upcoming world championship and Detroit right-winger Gustav Nyquist is part of the squad.
It will be the third world tourney for Nyquist, who also played in 2014 and 2016. He also represented the Swedes at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
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