Fulcher off to Memorial Cup
While a number of Detroit Red Wings prospects enjoyed strong playoffs in the CHL ranks, just one will be headed to Regina for the Memorial Cup.
Goaltender Kaden Fulcher, an undrafted free agent who was signed to a pro contract by the Wings last fall, backstopped the Hamilton Bulldogs to the OHL title, upsetting the favored Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in a six-game final series. Detroit draftee Jordan Sambrook played defense for the Greyhounds, but missed out on a return trip to the Memorial Cup, having won the OHL title last spring with the Erie Otters.
For Fulcher, it’s the latest uptick in a career that’s been in forward gear ever since he impressed the Wings in development camp last summer.
“He’s had a great year,” Red Wings director of player development Shawn Horcoff told Mlive.com. “It’s been a good signing for us.
“He’s still playing, so he’s a guy that been improving.”
There's been a Red Wings connection to both of Hamilton's previous Memorial Cup wins. In 1976, the Hamilton Fincups were led to the title by Dale McCourt, selected first overall by the Wings in the 1977 NHL entry draft, as well as future Wings Willie Huber, Al Jensen and Ric Seiling. The 1962 Memorial Cup champion Hamilton Red Wings were a Detroit-affiliated junior club and listed future Wings Paul Henderson, Ron Harris, Pit Martin, Lowell MacDonald, Roger Lafreniere, Howie Menard, Jim Peters, Wayne Rivers and Bob Wall on the roster and they were coached by former Wings defenseman Eddie Bush.
Fulcher, 19, posted a 16-3-2 record in the postseason, leading all goalies in wins. His 2.70 goals-against average was also the best of any netminder in the playoffs.
“He’s a kid that has great character, great work ethic, constantly wants to get better,” Horcoff said. “He’s put the work in and it’s going to pay off for him. He’s on a great team that’s on a good run.”
One of the aspects the Wings were looking for from Fulcher after signing him was to see an improvement in his steadiness between the pipes. The 6-3, 182-pounder is known as an athletic netminder with astounding reflexes, but also suffered from a bad habit of surrendering the occasional soft goal.
“He’s a tall, rangy, sort of wiry build, really athletic, really good on his feet, quick,” Wings assistant general manager Ryan Martin said. “He needs to continue to work on his consistency.
“He’s the kind of goalie where if he gets bombarded with 16, 18 shots in a period, he’ll come up some saves that are just unconscious and then one will sneak through him that he probably wishes he had. He’ll continue to work on his consistency but he’s in a really good spot, he’s gone on a good playoff run.”
The Wings have seen those improvements they’ve sought from Fulcher and are intrigued by the possibilities he offers them in the future.
“He’s improved his movement in the net,” Horcoff said. “We like his size and athleticism. He was a little bit raw but he’s a kid that wants to work and puts in the work. Goalies are more of a long-term project. You get these kids that are young, it takes a while to hone their craft. They really have to put the work in to be ready for the pro game.
“He’s very much doing that. We’re happy with his progression and where he’s at.”
Where Fulcher will be at next year is a debate the Wings will engage in over the summer months. Detroit’s goaltending is definitely in a state of flux. Jimmy Howard is the only goalie on the roster with any significant NHL experience, and Jared Coreau, who was No. 1 in Grand Rapids and Howard’s back up with the Wings at the end of the NHL regular season, is an unrestricted free agent, as is fellow Grand Rapids netminder and 2008 No. 1 draft pick Tom McCollum. The contract of Matej Machovsky, a free agent signed last summer, is also up and he’s opted to return to his native Czech Republic.
The door of opportunity to turn pro certainly appears to be there for Fulcher but that’s a decision the team is still weighing.
“Next year we have the option to send him back and play an overage junior year, or he’d be working between Toledo and maybe Grand Rapids,” Martin said. “We’ll continue to monitor his development.”
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