What’s Eating Nikolai Kulemin?

If you’re a top-six forward and Joey Crabb has doubled your goal production despite playing 10 fewer games, it’s a pretty safe bet that things haven’t exactly been going your way. But add to that the fact that this is a contract year and you are losing yourself future dollars by the day, and things look downright grim. [Editor’s Note: This could be great news for the Leafs long-term]

OK, so maybe we won’t cry for Nikolai Kulemin – he is still rather well off, I’m sure – but it doesn’t help stem the frustration of seeing him on pace for 8 goals on the season. It’s true that most of us expected at least some regression from last season’s totals but this has been quite the dry spell. [Editor’s Note: Here’s a look at a simpler time’s predictions – pre-season.]

In this kind of situation, the bad news is also, to a certain extent, the good news: Kulemin has a shooting percentage of 6.94% and it’s bound to regress to the mean at some point. Click to read on.

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Now, let’s suppose for a minute that Nikolai Kulemin had been shooting at his career average of 12.7% up until this point in the season. That’d be much better, right? Well, not so much. He would have potted 9 goals, and be on pace for 15 on the season. It turns out that his shot count – something that isn’t overly dependent on luck – is way down as well. So what’s eating Kulemin? Let’s have a look at the Behind the Net figures:


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If I had to sum up the shift between last season and this one in one word, I might choose "woof". Kulemin appears to be getting better zone starts, seeing roughly the same level of competition, and yet, has stopped pushing the puck in the right direction as often as he did last year, seen his ice time cut (especially on the power play), and, to top it all off, is getting unlucky. His agent must be just beside himself. [Editor’s Note: If his agent is Ritch Winter we are about to get a whiny diatribe…]

Admittedly, the fact that neither of Kulemin’s principal linemates are not exactly having career years can be helping either. Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur may well be affecting certain Behind the Net numbers, like SF/60 or S/60, for instance. Naturally, this doesn’t actually absolve Kulemin of any kind of responsibility but it should be taken into account.

As a side note, I really don’t feel that the Leafs should trade Nikolai Kulemin right now. I suspect that although many of his poor numbers are not luck-based he will rebound to a certain extent in the coming year or two. The Leafs might as well re-sign him while he is still an RFA and still somewhat cost-controlled. Trading him now would just be ‘selling low’.

To right the ship, Kulemin will have to start shooting a lot more. Being on pace for 120 shots this season – as opposed to 173 – is certainly affecting his point totals more than anything. If Kulemin can put up another 170-shot season at a career average 12.7% shooting percentage, that’s still a 22-goal season and very much worthy of a top-six role on any team.

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    • The only problem with that is that most players don’t last long enough to hit the 4000-shot mark in the league.

      I guess I’m not waiting for Kulemin’s shooting percentage to go up or down from his career average per se, but I hope that he’ll shoot more.

  • I think one thing to consider in regards to Kulemin is that terrible accident in Russia. I wish I saved the article but in it being an interview with Kulemin, he mentioned how he spoke to him the night before easing his nerves and wishing him a happy birthday. I don’t know about you but that would mess me up if that was me and losing such a valuable and close friend like that knowing I was one of the last people to speak to him and told him not to worry. Maybe this is weighing too much on him as I know that some stuff like this greatly affects everything in their lives.

  • I remember when the season started, he got a bunch of shots in the first few games, but they all missed. 5 or so games in, he had 2 shots on net and 17 missed shots.

    So his lower number of shots is probably due to lower confidence from missing and getting stopped.

    Possibly some kind of injury that mainly just affects his shot?

  • Look at his shot placement compared to last year and you’ll see he’s also shooting from farther out..

    He’s lost his confidence and staying away from the net, or he’s injured his shoulder/back and he’s trying to play through it.

  • Danny Gray

    Part of it is regression.
    Part of it is confidence.
    Part of it is related to the off ice stuff.
    He still does all the little things right, the goals will come.