With the positive feelings coming out of New York City the last few days regarding the negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA it’s finally looking like we are actually going to have an NHL season. It’s hard not to start thinking about how this shortened season is going to play out. Coming into this year, one of the more intriguing players for the Toronto Maple Leafs is winger Nikolai Kulemin.
After coming off a career season of 30 goals and 57 points, Kulemin was a huge disappointment last year with only seven goals and 28 points in 70 games. Ron Wilson stated on many occasions that Kulemin was doing a lot of little things right and that he just wasn’t getting any breaks. One thing you cannot question is his effort. Kulemin works extremely hard at both ends of the ice, but one has to wonder if he really is a top six forward like he was two seasons ago or if he should be slotted in a third or fourth line a checking role.
Kulemin has been playing for Magnitogorsk Metallurg during the lockout and it looks like he has regained his confidence and found his scoring touch. Kulemin has 14 goals and 34 points in 34 games on a team that also features Evgeni Malkin. His 34 points puts him eighth in league scoring ahead of some very talented hockey players, including Pavel Datsyuk.
There has been some good work in the hockey analytics community trying to determine how scoring points in various leagues translates to the NHL. Gabe Desjardins was one of the first to do this, but his work has not been updated to capture the emergence of the KHL. Thankfully Bruce Peter at puckworlds.com has taken the time to do this. He determined the translation factor from the KHL to the NHL to be 0.62. Since Kulemin is scoring at a point per game pace in the KHL we can expect him to score at a rate of 0.62 points per game in the NHL. To put this in perspective, Kulemin produced at a rate of 0.7 points per game during his career season two years ago.
There is no question that Kulemin had a rough campaign last year and with the addition of James Van Riemsdyk his spot on the second line has come into question. Given his good play and the fact that he has been playing some highly competitive hockey during the lockout, he should be ready to bounce back if the season ever gets started.
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