EVERETT — Some players who wind up in the British Columbia Hockey League after playing in the Western Hockey League end up perceiving it as a demotion.
For Lucas Cullen, it provided a chance to reset.
The 19-year-old forward, signed by the Everett Silvertips in midseason as an affiliate player and recalled Wednesday, played the past two seasons with his hometown team, the West Kelowna Warriors, after being drafted by and breaking in with the Calgary Hitmen to begin his WHL career.
“For me, I wasn’t really enjoying myself there,” Cullen said of his stint in Calgary. “There wasn’t one specific thing that led to it, I just wasn’t enjoying it all that much. Going back to West Kelowna, I think it was really crucial for me. I experienced a lot of highs, I got back to loving the game again. It’s definitely been awesome.”
The BCHL is a junior A league, one step down in competition from the Western Hockey League.
Cullen was never a prolific point-scorer in Calgary, posting nine points in 48 games spanning three seasons with the Hitmen. But he was a scorer in West Kelowna, totaling 68 points in 86 games, including 50 points in 49 games this season.
The Kelowna, British Columbia, native was especially productive in the Warriors’ first-round playoff series against the Wenatchee Wild, scoring seven goals and chipping in an assist over the seven games. West Kelowna dropped the final two games of the best-of seven series after going up 3-2.
Cullen arrived in Everett on Wednesday and skated with the team for the first time Thursday. He’ll be in the lineup for Everett’s Friday tilt at Victoria, Silvertips head coach Dennis Williams said.
The first impressions of Cullen were positive, a reassuring and relieving factor for Everett’s bench boss.
“He seems like an absolutely A-plus person. High character,” Williams said. “One of the things when (Silvertips general manager Garry Davidson) talked to me about bringing him in is I needed to make sure there are no distractions to our locker room. We have a tight-knit group. So our additions have to be A-plus people.”
It will take time for Cullen to carve out his role on the team, but Williams will give him a chance to showcase his skill-set and seek out his niche.
“It’s going to be a transition for him,” Williams said. “It’s a step up, a lot different pace, execution and expectations.
“We don’t want to put too much expectations on our guys. … If he can help contribute to our team success, then that’s something we’ll continue to look at and put him in different spots. But my goal is to get him in tomorrow and a chance to play.”
Regardless, returning to the WHL is a special reward, Cullen said.
“It was a long series with my team back in West Kelowna, it was really emotional,” Cullen said. “But I was looking forward to coming here. I know it’s a team that can go really far, so I’m looking forward to that.”
A full lineup isn’t a luxury the Silvertips have had in the home stretch of the regular season, a disconcerting sign with just two games remaining.
Some of it is because of late injuries — top-nine forwards Connor Dewar, Max Patterson, Dawson Butt and Martin Fasko-Rudas have missed games over the past month because of nagging ailments — but Williams has said a lack of center depth has ultimately capsized the Silvertips’ fourth line. It’s been an issue for Everett since Riley Sutter, the Silvertips’ No. 1 center, went on the shelf with a lower-body injury Dec. 29.
Williams said he prefers cycling his wingers through the lineup in favor of playing a winger out of position at center. It also allows the Silvertips to dress a seventh defenseman, providing insurance if there’s an injury on the blue line.
Could Cullen be the answer to Everett’s fourth-line center problem?
Perhaps. Cullen is listed as a center and has experience at the position. But the 1999-born forward was situated as the left wing on West Kelowna’s top line for the BCHL playoffs and is on the smaller side — he’s listed at 5-foot-7, 160 pounds, which doesn’t bode well against the bigger, more physical players who typically play the position.
Williams said he was unsure if Cullen can ultimately add to their depth up the middle. Regardless, he’s hoping to stumble upon an answer.
“We’re going to have to figure out that fourth-line center role,” Williams said. “We’ll experiment with a couple guys there and see how it works.”
Import forward expected to return
Barring any travel restrictions, Fasko-Rudas is expected to be in Everett’s lineup Friday in Victoria after he was required to fly back to his home country of Slovakia for statewide education testing tied to high school graduation.
The 2000-born forward was expected to land at Seattle-Tacoma Airport on Thursday night and join the team on Vancouver Island on Friday afternoon via the Seattle-Victoria Clipper. The team bus departed for Victoria on Thursday afternoon.
Forward Max Patterson took part in a full-contact practice Thursday and, barring an unexpected setback, will return to the Silvertips’ lineup Friday. The 19-year-old center has missed the past two games with an upper-body injury sustained March 8 at Tri-City.