- We all know the success Nikolai Kulemin had two seasons ago, hitting the 30 goal plateau, but we also know what lack thereof he had in the most recent campaign. In just his fourth season, Kulemin seemed to have lost all confidence in his scoring ability.
Everything took a turn south this season for Kulemin. His shooting percentage dropped nearly three times the mark he hit last season and almost half of what it was in his first two seasons. His overall shots on goal suffered, as a result. It is clear that Kulemin’s early slump got to his confidence, so what could a gold medal do to a young player like Kulemin?
We know and have witnessed his ability to play effectively and score consistently on the second line. Though he was not, in any way, a prolific player on a team like Russia, he did finish the tournament with a +4 rating, averaged 14:21 in ice time, and finished with 4 points in 10 tournament games. Above all, he experienced what it feels like to win at the World level.
In hockey, along with most sports, the psychological approach is just as important, if not more, than your physical ability. After all, it is the mind that controls your ability to perform. We see mental breakdowns all over the league only to see those players bounce back. In fact, we are currently witnessing a similar dip in one of the greatest players and successful scorers in the league, Alexander Ovechkin. It happens to most players throughout their careers and it’s merely a matter of shaking the cobwebs out of their heads and getting back to a positive vibe that translates into to confidence and success on the ice. Kulemin, however, is in a much easier spot than a guy like Ovechkin in terms of pressure. Though Kulemin is in the biggest hockey market, he is not a top liner that the Leafs rely on to score. Last season, he became an ideal secondary scorer that every team appreciates and needs at some point.
For Kulemin, playing on the same team as a guy like Ovechkin, knowing he’s in a similar slump and watching The Great 8 come through and succeed the way he did and be a front line contributor to the gold medal effort, could speak volumes to Kulemin.
Coming back to Toronto, he will certainly generate some positive energy to his teammates in the locker room. This will give him a sense of accomplishment and legitimacy once again among the players in the room and feel comfortable in his role. I certainly believe that this experience could be the boost of confidence the young Kulemin needs in order to get over his current slump and return to his prior success.
Who knows, maybe he helps turn the tide in Toronto? Lord knows we need all the help we can get.