Jakub Culek started the season training with the Binghamton Senators. Facing the reality of a logjam at the forward position, despite strong play in the preseason, Culek was reassigned to the Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL. That was on October 6th after the B-Sens final preseason fixture.
In an article Tuesday from L'Avantage, the paper quoted team management in revealing that Jakub Culek will not be playing for Rimouski this season. I should caution that my French is what one could consider "barely conversational", but I was able to ascertain much of the article's details. He has spent the previous three years playing for the Oceanic, but owing to his age (20) and the fact he is European, there is no room for him on this year's roster. Any CHL team is permitted to have three overage players, and three European players. Rimouski are currently at that number on both counts. The roster limits are no secret, so the question should be asked: how did this happen?
Culek was drafted by the Senators in the third round in 2010. After trading the first round selection for David Rundblad and having swapped their second round picks in the push towards their eventual exit in Game Six of Round One against the Penguins, Culek was the team's first pick in the draft.
His first season as a Senators prospect witnessed a huge drop-off in his production compared to his draft year. In 55 games he had 22 points, as opposed to 47 in 63 the year before. Last year, however, saw a rebound in Culek's performance and, as a result, in expectations of how he might serve the team a few years down the road. He stood out for the Czech Republic at last year's World Juniors, bringing fans' attention to his resurgence in the game.
This year, Culek came to camp for the B-Sens facing modest expectations. He certainly stood behind top prospects like Mika Zibanejad, Jakob Silfverberg and Mark Stone on the depth chart and faced a difficult fight to earn a roster spot on Luke Richardson's team. Subjectively speaking, Culek played very well in important situations. He was offensively productive and Richardson trusted him on all areas of the ice. His size is decent, he plays a fine physical game that compliments his two-way skill set. More than that, he comes across as having a very high hockey IQ. Down 5-on-3 in one of their preseason matches, Culek was sent over the boards when Jared Cowen came off for a change. He blocked a shot in the ensuing sequence and cleared the puck out of the zone. Still, Culek lost out in the numbers game and was assigned to Rimouski.
The problem now is that his assignment was over two weeks ago, and Culek hasn't played a game. He is still allowed to practice with the team, but isn't traveling with them and, critically, isn't playing hockey games. That's why this has to be a source of frustration for the Senators front office. Culek has had an up-and-down career so far and the only way for him to keep improving is by playing hockey. Young players need to play games.
What's next for Culek?The article that broke the news floats the idea of a trade to Baie-Comeau, or the ECHL. Fine. But it needs to happen soon. Culek needs a way out of hockey purgatory, since he is only there because of other people's mistakes.