Thursday, May 27, 2010

Nikolai Kulemin: With or Without You

I was watching a couple of Russia's qualification round games in the World Championships in Germany, and despite a roster featuring Ovechkin, Semin, Malkin, Datysuk, and Kovalchuk, it was Toronto Maple Leaf forward Nikolai Kulemin that really caught my eye. I knew Maple Leaf fans, at least those who sound passingly knowledgeable, seemed to like him, and Ron Wilson and Brian Burke praised Kulemin during the season - despite sending him down to the AHL before opening night - with Wilson saying, "[h]e's probably our most complete player now." And I knew Kulemin was a star in Magnitogorsk and had some slick moves with the puck. But I did not realize just how good this guy is without the puck and how he is always in the right position and doing the right thing on the ice. If the puck comes around his side of the boards, he's probably going to win it; if their d comes out with it on the far boards, he's going to pick up the forward breaking out; if the puck moves back to his d at the point, he's going straight to the net. His hockey sense and battle level are off the charts. There are no short cuts in his game. While he doesn't have the raw skills of an Ovechkin or Kovalchuk, he's almost more fun to watch because he just does everything so right. And he has some finishing skills. So in the vein of Tyler's Backstrom WOWY and BenHasna'sFrans Nielsen WOWY (incidentally, I was not surprised in the least of Nielsen's results; I've watched him somewhat closely over the last two seasons and had already internalized those conclusions about him; he's a fantastic player), I looked at Kulemin's WOWY. I actually was surprised that his numbers, though certainly good, weren't more impressive.

One thing that jumps out that has already been commented on in various places is that Toronto's CORSI numbers are quite good. Of course, because they were trailing in so many of their games you'd expect their CORSI numbers to be inflated, but that said, it does appear that it was goaltending that did them in.

Re Kulemin, I think the results show that he made the good players (Kessel, Bozak, Grabo, Pony, Beauchemin, and Kaberle) a little bit better, and he made the not as good players (Primeau, Mitchell, and Schenn) a whole lot better. Kulemin got less favorable zone starts than almost any other Leaf forward, with the exception of Primeau which helps explain Primeau's brutal CORSI, and Kulemin faced the toughest competition of any Leaf forward. Considering those two factors makes his WOWY CORSI more impressive. What's somewhat interesting to me is how little Kulemin played with Hagman, and to a lesser extent Grabovski and Ponikarovsky, players who, IIRC, he spent a fair amount of time with the prior season. I have no idea what was going on with Lee Stempniak, who appeared to have a ridiculous CORSI with the Leafs but who couldn't get anything to go in the net, and then was traded to the Coyotes and everything went in for him but his CORSI numbers do not particularly stand out. There's probably an interesting Stempniak WOWY out there waiting to be done.

Nothing earth shattering here, but I think it certainly does not contradict my feeling that this guy is a heck of a player, and it probably helps confirm it. I'd at least bring it to the table if I was Kulemin's agent. Those negotiations are going to be very interesting, in as much as he's a difficult player to evaluate. I love watching Grabovski play - I've seen him play games where he jitterbugs all over the ice with the puck seemingly glued to his stick - but I don't see how anyone could rather have Grabovski on their team than Kulemin.