Following in the tradition paved by famous brother
combinations to have played in the NHL at the same time, the Cullens are a trio
of forwards seeking to join an elite group.
The Potvins, the Stastnys, the Courtnalls and of course, the legendary
Sutter brothers showed the hockey world that talent could often be found in
The Oilers drafted Joe, the youngest of the three Cullen
brothers, in 2000 while he was still playing at Colorado College. Joe’s middle sibling Mark is currently a
part of the Minnesota Wild organization and skates for the AHL’s Houston
Aeros. The eldest of the Cullen boys is
Matt who is now in his second season with the Florida Panthers after playing in
parts of six previous campaigns in Anaheim.
Unlike his smaller and faster brothers, Joe plays a more
physical game and uses his size to excel as a defensive minded power
forward. Cullen is playing this year
as a professional with the Toronto Roadrunners, the Oilers’ AHL affiliate.
Oiler scouts have liked the development of Cullen from his
days as a collegian and are even a little surprised at how well he has played
this season in the AHL.
“Joe has really grown into a player during his four years at
(Colorado College),” agreed long time Oiler scout Chris McCarthy. “He worked
very hard to push himself, and has developed into a solid pro, with good
potential. He deserves a lot of credit for his work, and I think we’re
finally seeing what type of player Joe and can be.”
he’s been a pleasant surprise, and as I’ve tracked his progress at college, I
have seen a marked improvement every year in his overall play,” concluded
“He’s one of those role players who just keep doing the same
thing game in and game out, they don’t make mistakes and they always make the
right play,” commented Bob Mancini, another of Edmonton’s American-based
scouts. “Those types of players are
tough but if the puck comes on their stick in the big games they end up getting
the big goal or the big assist. He’s
never going to be more than that third or fourth line player, but he’s going to
give you the exact same thing every single game.”
That type of consistency is something that all NHL teams
would like to instill in more of their players but it’s a trait that is nearly
impossible to teach.
Cullen struggled early this season, a result of the time it
has taken for the rookie to get acclimated with the talent, travel and game
load found in the AHL.
The 6’1” center weighs in at 210 lbs so he has
better size than many middlemen the Oilers have had on their roster in recent
years. Cullen may remind some Edmonton
onlookers of Rem Murray, but with the added size that makes him a larger center
than any current pivot on the Oiler roster of today. The Minnesota born Cullen could play a larger role in the future
of the Edmonton Oilers should his development continue on as it has in recent
Oiler fans had their first live
opportunity to see Joe at the top prospect camp last June in Sherwood Park and
then also at the main training camp in September. Next year, they might get an even longer look.
Hockey’s Future spoke with Cullen from
the team’s bus as it ventured stateside last week for a big game against their
divisional rivals in Cleveland.
HF: You were born in Moorhead, Minnesota, is that were you grew up
and played hockey as a kid?
JC: We moved there when I was about five years old from Virginia,
Minnesota actually and lived there for most of my life. I played minor hockey there and all the way
up to high school. It’s a small town in
HF: Your older brother Mark is in the Minnesota Wild organization and
your oldest brother Matt played with Anaheim and is now with the Florida
JC: That’s correct. Mark’s in
Houston right now with Minnesota’s AHL team and Matt’s in his first full season
HF: How have you benefited from your brothers’ successes?
JC: Tremendously I would guess.
Everything I’ve learned basically has come from either my dad or from
them. They’ve gone through everything
that I’m going through now so any problem I come up against they’ve already
dealt with, I can always just call them and ask them what they would do to get
through their tough times. It’s like
having a better player tell you what to do when you’re not playing your
HF: Are there any more Cullen brothers behind you?
JC: No, just those two and then I have a younger sister too.
HF: Your bio would suggest that you are the biggest of the three
Cullen boys, how are you different on the ice?
JC: I’m not quite as quick as those two are. In Houston that’s really Mark’s game and he
uses that to his advantage especially in the offensive zone where he likes to
handle the puck. They both have great
vision too. I guess I use my size more
and get in front of the net a little more.
I pride myself on the ability to score goals by standing in front of the
net and just banging away where as those two can do more from the outside and
do more with their speed and quickness than I can.
HF: Would you call yourself a power forward?
JC: I try to be, so yes I think so. I think I can still make plays and stuff with my vision but I
tend to use my size to go to the net more.
HF: Have you gotten the chance to play against Mark in Houston yet
JC: No and you know, I checked the schedule and we don’t play them
once this year! The only way we would
play them is if we both made the finals so…
HF: Well, that’s what happened last year!
JC: (laughs) Oh yeah, that’s true!
HF: You attended Colorado College and had Mark as a teammate for a
couple of those years; that must have been a lot of fun.
JC: That was a great experience!
We got to play together for three years and he was basically the main
reason that I went there. I had a
couple of other schools to choose from but it was basically hands down that I
wanted to go there because Mark told me how great a place it was and said that
I would love it. I knew that if he
loved it then I would too and knowing that I had somebody there it would make
it easier to get accustomed to the school and everything.
HF: Do you still follow Colorado’s season?
JC: Oh yeah! I’ve still got
quite a few buddies on that team still so I give them a call when I can and see how the old squad is doing but
unfortunately they’re not doing so well this year.
HF: In the off-season, when did the Oilers first
express an interest in signing you?
JC: I guess it was about the beginning of the
summer. I found out they wanted to sign
me in May or so but I didn’t really know how it was going to happen until the
summertime. My agent called me and said
‘Edmonton wants to sign you now’. Just
hearing that is enough to make you feel pretty good!
HF: During your college days, after they drafted
you but before they signed you, was there much contact between the Oilers and
JC: No, I think they just wanted to let me play
and they hoped everything would all work out.
They already drafted me so I had nothing to worry about. I’m sure that they came to a few games,
especially in my senior year, but they didn’t really get in contact but I’d
find out that they were there. That was
OK with me though, it meant I could just go out and play and not have to worry
about anything else. I probably would
have been a little nervous if I had known before hand that the scouts were
going to be there.
HF: Tell me what the mini-camp and the fall camp experiences in
Edmonton were like for you.
JC: The summer camp was great.
It was about a week, which isn’t a long time, but I got to meet all the
guys and that made it a lot easier coming into the training camp. When training camp came around it was a
pretty nerve racking time but as it went on it got better and I felt pretty
well overall about my camp.
HF: What is your role with the Roadrunners this year?
JC: To be a strong defensive player and score goals. I feel one of my best attributes is being
able to score goals and I wasn’t able to do that earlier this year and I got off
to a slow start. I’ve been playing a
lot better lately and I’ve been contributing more. Mainly I play when we need defense and on the penalty kill and I
pride myself on that because it’s the strong part of my game.
HF: Kevin Prendergast has said that he thinks
the AHL is a very underrated league and the transition is harder on college
players than it is for major junior players.
Do you agree and why would you say that is?
JC: I think for the college players it has more
to do with the amount of games. In
college we only played 36 games in the regular season so according to (the
Roadrunners) schedule I’d already be done playing if I were still in
college. That can be a bit overwhelming
at times. This league is unbelievable
for the amount of talented players; it’s extraordinary. It’s a huge step from college with the
amount of games and the travel so it’s a lot different.
HF: Are you satisfied with your play and your contributions to the
team so far?
JC: In the last 15-20 games I’ve played in I feel like I’ve been
doing a lot better. My first half I
wasn’t contributing as much as I’d like to and I wasn’t playing as well as I
thought I could have. Ever since the
middle of December I’ve felt more confident and I think I’ve been better on the
HF: What is the mood in the dressing room these days as the playoff
stretch comes closer and the team is still in the division basement?
JC: The feeling is a little tense.
We know we have to start winning some more games and we’re really
trying. I think we’re one of the hardest
working teams in the league. It’s
crunch time though and we need to start winning some games and everyone in here
knows that. It’s time to get down to
HF: Can you pinpoint what has been going wrong for your team?
JC: It hasn’t been just one thing and a lot of times it’s a different
thing each night. Sometimes we play
great defensively but can’t put the puck in the net and then there are nights
where we score a lot of goals but we give up one more than we get. When we play well we can beat any team in
this league and that’s kind of frustrating at times. We’ve got enough talent to get the job done though so hopefully
HF: You mentioned beating some of the best teams in the league. I look at Hamilton and you have a pretty
good record against them, is that because the rivalry is instantly there making
it that much easier to get up for those games?
JC: A lot of the guys around here played on that team last year so I
think it’s always a little bit more fun to play against a team that you played
for as a rival. It’s almost like the
same city because we’re only like a half an hour away. There’s always a big crowd and we always
seem to play our best against Hamilton.
HF: How has attendance at your home games been?
JC: For weekend games it’s pretty good. Especially against St. John’s and Hamilton, we’ll sell out those
games. The weekday games we might get
maybe 2000-3000 maybe 4000 per night.
HF: Being a rookie I would think it’s natural to gravitate towards a
veteran for guidance at times. Has anyone
taken you ‘under their wing’ so to speak?
JC: I’m learning a lot from Jamie Wright. I sit pretty close to him in the locker room and we shoot around
after practice and he’s really helped me out with my shot. He’s been in this league for a while and in
the NHL so I think he’s one guy that’s helped me out quite a bit this
HF: Whom do you room with on the road and do you
have any funny stories yet?
JC: Sean McAslan. We have a big discrepancy in sleeping temperature. He likes the room really warm and I love the
room cold so we made a deal that if I get to have the room cold whenever I want
then he can have my shower in the locker room whenever he wants. So whenever we’re waiting to shower and
they’re full, he can have my turn.
HF: According to Doug Lynch the team practical
joker is Rocky Thompson.
JC: No question about that! He likes to put the shaving cream in the
towels and stuff. (laughs) it’s a good
time having him around in the locker room.
HF: Did you know any of the other players before
you got to Toronto and before the June prospect camp?
JC: Brad Winchester and I used to play on the
same team together when I was a senior in high school. We both played for the U-18 National team
and then we played against each other all four years in college so we go back a
HF: The Roadrunners are basically a young team
so do you all get together away from the rink quite a bit?
JC: Most of the time we do, yeah. I live with Doug Lynch so we have a good
time after the games and everyone here is pretty good buddies.
HF: Is making the playoffs this year still a
realistic goal in Toronto?
Our division’s really close and we’re only a few points back. It’s a tight league and everything is pretty
competitively balanced so if we play above .500 for the next stretch of games
it’s still realistic. We definitely
have that goal and we still think we can achieve it.
As January came to a
close, the Roadrunners had been able to momentarily claw their way out of the
basement in the AHL’s Northern Division.
After speaking with Hockey’s Future earlier that day, Joe Cullen
assisted on the game winning goal against Cleveland and helped his team gain a
critical two points in the ultra-tight standings.
this article at
the Oilers section of the Hockey’s Future