Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer
Aug 28, 2008, 9:00 AM EDT
While the selection of defenseman Zach Bogosian by the Atlanta Thrashers with the third pick in the 2008 Entry Draft certainly was deserving of much fanfare, there happens to be another blue-line prospect within the organization making the most of his opportunities.
Bogosian, for one, knows why coaches and scouts are gushing over 6-foot-2, 200-pound Arturs Kulda. The big Latvian was his defensive partner with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League last season.
"We kind of formed a bond in Peterborough because when I first got there, he was also new and, on top of that, I have an Armenian background so it was a kind of a European rite that we get together," Bogosian told NHL.com. "He's a great kid on and off the ice and was a lot of fun to play with just because we complemented each other pretty well. If he wanted to go up I'd stay back, and when I skated up he stayed back. He's gotten so much better over the last two years that I've seen, and he seems to be playing his best hockey right now."
Bogosian was witness to that improvement during the Thrashers' prospect development camp at the Duluth IceForum in Atlanta in July. During one scrimmage, Bogosian skated by two players through the neutral zone with one more to beat at the blue line for a clean breakaway, but Kulda poked the puck away to start a transition in the opposite direction.
Born in Riga, Latvia, it has taken the 19-year-old Kulda just two seasons to become acclimated to the North American game.
"He's destined for American Hockey League duty this season, but Arturs is a great example of what happens to players who work hard and make the most of their opportunities," said Dan Marr, Atlanta's director of amateur scouting and player development. "He came out last year and seized his chance. Now he's one step away from reaching the NHL as a seventh-round draft choice."
Kulda, taken No. 200 in 2006, wasn't intimidated while adjusting to the North American game.
"There were maybe some little aspects in my game that I needed to change, but after a while, I got used to it," Kulda told NHL.com. "It's great to see guys like (Ilya) Kovalchuk, (Alex) Ovechkin and (Evgeni) Malkin coming to North America and having such great success. I played with or against many of these players and it certainly makes me work even harder to reach that next level."
Kulda was second to Bogosian (61 points) among Peterborough defensemen with 34 points (27 assists) last season. He even led the team with a plus-9 rating through 55 games. Bogosian finished second on the club with a plus-8 in 60 contests.
"I think my experience with Zach and playing with Peterborough was great," Kulda said. "I saw a lot of ice time and played in all types of game situations while on the top defensive pairing."
Kulda's play was so impressive he was signed to an amateur tryout contract March 30 with the Chicago Wolves, Atlanta's AHL affiliate. In five regular-season games, he recorded one assist and a plus-3 rating. In 21 postseason games with Chicago, he had five points, 32 penalty minutes and a plus-12 rating while averaging 17 minutes a game. His play helped spark Chicago to a six-game series victory over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the Calder Cup final. He signed an entry-level contract with the Thrashers on May 22.
"I'm no coach, but I feel my physical and sound defensive play in the defensive zone are what the coaches like to see," said Kulda. "I just try and do my best whenever I get a chance. I try and show my aggressiveness and willingness to play any style. I want to show my best all the time and playing physical is the style I enjoy. I like to hit and I'm working a lot on my physical shape, so that's just going to help me even more."
Kulda appeared for Latvia in the 2008 Division I Group B World Junior Championships, recording five points in five games, and also represented Latvia in the 2007 Division I Group A World Junior Championships, posting two assists in five games.
Being picked in the seventh round gives Kulda motivation to prove the skeptics wrong.
"I had been talking with Atlanta prior to the draft (in 2006), so I kind of knew that they had serious interest," Kulda said. "It was great to be drafted and, to me, it didn't matter which round or what number I went. The fact you're going to be in the NHL system and have a chance to sign a contract and possibly play one day is a dream I want to come true."
At the rate Kulda has progressed, that dream soon may become reality.