What’s Happened To Nikolai Kulemin?
At 6’1” and just over 200 pounds at the time he was drafted, Kulemin had the size to be an effective power forward, but would struggle to learn a more North American friendly style of play which involved playing a 200-foot game instead of just being a goal scorer.
Like many Russian prospects before him, Kulemin struggled in his first season with the Maple Leafs, notching 15 goals, 16 assists for a total of 31 points in 78 games, while posting a minus-8 rating.
Last season Kulemin came into camp in phenomenal shape, bringing his weight up to 220 pounds and, according to many in the locker room, looking like a beast.
Kulemin’s hard work off the ice paid huge dividends as he smashed his career high’s in goals and assists, registering 30 goals and 27 assists for a total of 57 points, while boasting a plus+7 rating.
Kulemin played on a line with Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur last season. The trio posted 177 points, which put them amongst the NHL’s most feared lines.
Fast forward to this season and the picture is not quite as rosy. Kulemin has struggled to find his scoring touch, registering two goals in 25 games, while netting 11 points.
Like Kulemin, linemates MacArthur (nine goals, three assists through 19 games) and Grabovski (six goals, five assists through 20 games) have struggled to find their offensive spark, which has many Leaf fans concerned.
When you consider the Maple Leafs offense is currently ranked third overall and the power play is ranked second overall, goals scoring does not appear to be a problem for the Buds. That said, given the success Kuelmin and Company had last season, why the huge drop off?
One of the main reasons for the trio’s lack of success has been an adjustment in icetime.
In 2010-11 Kulemin averaged 17:19 of icetime, while receiving an average of 22.9 shifts per game. Kulemin also averaged 2:39 of power play time.
Fast forward to 2011-12 and you’ll find Kulemin has received much less time on the ice (15:41), especially on the power play where he went from 2:39 of power play time per game to just 1:45 this season. Kulemin posted 14 of his 57 points in 2010-11 on the power play.
Still, when you consider Kulemin’s totals have fallen from an average of 0.69 points per game to 0.44 points per game, there is reason for concern, or is there?
When Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke negotiated Kuelemin’s contract he cautioned everyone involved to recognize that Kulemin was receiving first line minutes. As good as Kulemin was, Burke cautioned that, despite getting premium minutes, Burke didn’t view Kulemin as a first line player and therefore would not be offering first line money to Kulemin.
The point is, with Kulemin getting less time, both five-on-five and on the power play, his totals were bound to drop off.
Combined, Kulemin (0.69 PPG), Grabovski (0.71) and MacArthur (0.76) averaged 0.72 points per game in 2010-11. This season the trio is averaging 0.54 points per game with Kulemin coming in at 0.44 PPG, Grabovski at 0.55 PPG and MacArthur sitting at 0.63 PPG, respectively.
That’s an average drop of 0.18 points per game. With Kulemin dropping a full 0.25 points per game, it is clear that he is having the toughest time meeting expectations, which, in many people’s minds, included another 30 goal season and a 60-plus point total.
In the end, the trio of Kulemin, MacArthur and Grabovski are all falling short of expectations, but when you consider all three are getting less time on the ice five-on-five and less power play time, it makes sense on some level.
With Toronto’s power play amongst the best in the NHL and the top line of Joffrey Lupul, Phil Kessel (who are 1-2 in the scoring race) and Tyler Bozak lighting the lamp regularly, it appears as if Kulemin and Company won’t be getting more ictime anytime soon.
Last season Kulemin registered a total of 173 shots on goal, while MacArthur and Grabovski registered 154 and 239, or a combined average of 2.31 shots per game, respectively.
This season Kulemin has 40 shots on goal, while MacArthur and Grabovski have a total of 31 and 40, or a combined average of 1.57 shots per game, respectively.
As much as Kulemin is off his game, linemates Grabovski and MacArthur are struggling to meet expectations as well, which means all three will have to put forth a better effort going forward.
It’s not too late for this trio to turn things around. Can you imagine the Maple Leafs offense if this trio ever gets it going? Scary!
Until next time,