Nikolai Kulemin has a difficult task ahead. It’s going to be convincing fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs that he can be more than a seven-goal scorer.
That’s all Kulemin had last season. A year after a career campaign where the silent Russian notched 30, he came back down to earth in a big way and now faces a tiring restricted free agency battle.
He’s an interesting case, his last two years marked with two extremes.
Much of the criticism directed at Kulemin in the past six months is due to his lack of scoring. It’s where fans begin to make psychological evaluations without having met Kulemin or seen him work out. He’s soft, he doesn’t use his size, he doesn’t find the open areas, enough.

Shot selection

A lot of what happened with Kulemin was shooting percentage regression. Last offseason, we discussed the matter about Kulemin on this very blog, but myself and JP Nikota, both thinking optimistically, came to the conclusion that Kulemin’s improved goal totals were thanks to shot selection and quality:
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I think that Kulemin’s game has improved substantially so as to afford him better chances on net, and that this is a sustainable aspect of his game. Goals that come from outside a ten-foot radius outside of the crease and the low slot? Not so sustainable. If I had to hazard a guess, I think we’re looking at a player whose shooting percentage will dip to the 13-15% range, and, without a large (and unprecedented) increase in his shot totals, we’re looking at a 22-25 goal-scorer.
I’m not going to go on record making any predictions, but I can come up with a similar conclusion as JP and suggest that Kulemin’s year had more to do with better shot selection and location than it had to do with variance and that should be a very pleasing bit of information for Leaf fans.
Suffice to say, we both overshot the landing. One of the problems with location-based shot analysis is that the system seems biased towards goals, as in, a recorder will value a goal to be a little bit closer to the net than an average saved shot. My own method from last season would have Kulemin pegged at 9 goals, which obviously doesn’t indicate any predictive quality.
Now, in Kulemin’s 30-goal season, let’s be clear, he had a shooting percentage of 17.3%. This is absurdly high. To put that in perspective, only 20 players since the 2007-08 season have had at least 173 shots (the amount Kulemin took in 2010-11) and had a shooting percentage of over 17%. The list can be found here.

Shooting highs

Since the lockout, no player with 1400 shots (about 200 a season) has maintained a shooting percentage of 17% or more, The highest is Thomas Vanek’s 15.2%, followed closely by Sidney Crosby’s 15.1%. This leaves two possibilities:
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1 – Nikolai Kulemin is the best shooter in the game post-lockout or, more likely,
2 – Nikolai Kulemin got more breaks than he deserved in 2010-11, leading to high expectations for 2011-12.
The second possibility is more likely.
It would also explain Kulemin’s extraordinarily low 6.5% shooting rate from this past campaign. This may seem like a simple explanation, but a lot of things in hockey don’t require a lengthy explanation. They just are.
Here are shooting percentage comparables to Kulemin in 2011:
 2011 Goals2011 Shots2011 Sh%
David Jones
27
153
17.65%
Chris Kunitz
23
133
17.29%
Milan Lucic
30
173
17.34%
Drew Stafford
31
179
17.32%
Chris Stewart
28
162
17.28%
Corey Perry
50
290
17.24%
Alex Burrows
26
152
17.11%
 
 
 
 
Average
31
177
17.31%
Kulemin
30
173
17.34%
And here’s how they did in 2012:
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 2012 Goals2012 Shots2012 Sh%
David Jones
20
136
14.71%
Chris Kunitz
26
230
11.30%
Milan Lucic
26
149
17.45%
Drew Stafford
20
226
8.85%
Chris Stewart
15
166
9.04%
Corey Perry
37
277
13.36%
Alex Burrows
28
198
14.14%
 
 
 
 
Average
25
197
12.45%
Kulemin
7
107
6.54%
Admittedly, this is a higher percentage than I expected, but the point is the player’s combined rolled back ever so slightly. 31-goal scorers became 25-goal scorers over the course of a season.

Shooting blanks

Kulemin, of course, took an even further dip. Not only did his shooting percentage come well back to earth, but his shot total suffered. This was a player confidently shooting more than two pucks a game at the net, to having that production cut by nearly a full shot per game. Some nights he did look like a 7-goal scorer.
How did the guys with a low shooting percentage in 2011 fare in 2012, well, luckily, we have numbers:
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 2011 Goals2011 Shots2011 Sh%
Darren Helm
12
177
6.78%
Brad Richardson
7
103
6.80%
Maxime Talbot
8
117
6.84%
Shawn Thornton
10
151
6.62%
Daniel Winnik
11
167
6.59%
Samuel Pahlsson
7
108
6.48%
Radek Dvorak
7
109
6.42%
Joel Ward
10
157
6.37%
David Clarkson
12
192
6.25%
Jason Chimera
10
162
6.17%
B.J. Crombeen
7
113
6.19%
 
 
 
 
Average
9
141
6.49%
Kulemin 2012
7
107
6.54%
And the 2012 numbers:
 2012 Goals2012 Shots2012 Sh%
Darren Helm
9
124
7.26%
Brad Richardson
5
98
5.10%
Maxime Talbot
19
115
16.52%
Shawn Thornton
5
114
4.39%
Daniel Winnik
8
184
4.35%
Samuel Pahlsson
4
93
4.30%
Radek Dvorak
4
83
4.82%
Joel Ward
6
79
7.59%
David Clarkson
30
228
13.16%
Jason Chimera
20
205
9.76%
B.J. Crombeen
1
50
2.00%
 
 
 
 
Average
10
125
8.08%
Kulemin 2013
???
???
???
Maybe there’s something to be said about the shooting quality of some of these players. The non-goons did pretty well the next season, but as a whole, players who don’t shoot well historically tended to continue to not shoot well. I don’t think this applies too much to Kulemin, but you do see that there’s a modest turnaround for the group as a whole. You can’t go into a year expecting somebody to shoot 6.5%.
What’s surprising to me is that players who had a higher shooting percentage in 2011 took more shots as a group in 2012, and the effect is reversed for the others. Kulemin appears to be an exception to this rule, but I wonder if teams may give extra offensive minutes to players coming off big years, or if there is something to be said for confidence.
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But that’s a story for another day. In the meantime, if you’re new to this blog, you can check out my earlier looks at Nikolai Kulemin from this summer. The first part focuses on his offence and the second part focuses on his defence.

Conclusion

The most worrying thing about Kulemin’s season is his low shot volume from 2011 to 2012. As explained in my piece about Kulemin’s offence, that was partly due to a lower even strength shot rate, and partly due to a huge drop in powerplay time.
I have him pegged between 13 and 19 goals this upcoming season. Not terrifically high, but acceptable for a player who likely play a role as a skilled forward on a third line.
He’ll have to work out hard in the offseason to be able to break 20 goals again.
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