Matt Cullen had some highs and lows playing for the Carolina Hurricanes last season. After a somewhat slow start on the third line, the center was eventually moved up in Rod Brind'Amour's spot on the second line and was one of the Hurricanes most dynamic players for a stretch of time. But near the end of the year he took a puck off his foot and missed the last few games of the season. It was rumored that his foot was broken and the player had to undergo painful treatment in order to participate in the playoffs. But even though he was not quite himself in the postseason, he still chipped in with three goals and three assists.
The Anaheim Ducks originally drafted Cullen back in 1996. In 2003 the Ducks traded him to Florida in a deal which had Sandis Ozolinsh coming to Anaheim. (Coincidentally, Carolina traded Ozolinsh to Florida the previous year). After a horrendous year with the Panthers, the Canes signed Cullen as a free agent in 2004 because of a recommendation by then coach Peter Laviolette. After the lockout, the center scored career best numbers, (49 points), and earned a huge contract from the NY Rangers. Of course the Canes missed him when he left town and made a deal for his return just one year later.
This past season the American born skater was almost able to match his career best numbers, even though he missed 13 games due to injury. He had a faceoff percentage of 51.7%, had the team's best shooting percentage at 15.8%, and was tied for third best on the team with a +11. He was also tied with Chad LaRose for scoring a team high, two short-handed goals.
|2008 - Matt Cullen||69||22||21||43||11||20||4||2||2||1||139||15.8|
The Good- Cullen has above average speed, is creative with the puck, and is a good team player. He has a solid percentage in the faceoff circle and earned more ice time as the season progressed as he consistently outplayed Brind'Amour. He's an under-rated two way player and is very responsible in his own end. He's also a dependable penalty killer and teamed up with Chad LaRose to give the team a legitimate threat to score while short-handed. As his team leading shooting percentage indicates, he obviously needs to put more pucks on net. He only took 139 shots compared to Eric Staal's 372.
The Bad- Cullen could be described as one of those players who tends to play with the puck a bit more than he should. (See above about taking more shots). While his 22 goals were the second best in his career, his 21 assists could be better for a second line center. Once again, shooting the puck more would create more rebounds for his linemates, thus pump up his assist totals accordingly. The once dependable sharpshooter was 0-5 on the shootout this past season.
The Money- This coming year will be the final year of the contract which he originally signed with the Rangers. The Canes will pay him 2.8 million and then the center will be an unrestricted free agent in 2010. It will be interesting to see if Carolina will want to bring him back afterwards because he's not getting any younger, (now 32). A lot will depend upon his performance and durability next season.
Previous grades, (by poll average):
Eric Staal - B
Rod Brind'Amour - C
Ryan Bayda - B
Niclas Wallin - C