2014 Sochi Olympics: Toronto Maple Leafs’ Nikolai Kulemin Was Evgeni Malkin’s Preferred Linemate

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Penguins centre Evgeni Malkin is back in Western Pennsylvania and is still seething after his Russian squad was bounced by Finland in the quarterfinals of the Sochi Olympics.

Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review published an illuminating piece that shows Malkin hasn’t gotten over his nation’s second straight Olympic setback, and it might take him a while.

[Malkin] returned to Pittsburgh on Monday and practiced with the Penguins at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday. His demeanor was unmistakable to longtime teammates.

“Angry,” James Neal said of his regular center with the Penguins.

“He hasn’t said much,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. “He’s just mad, I think.”

Rossi went on to list many reasons as to why Malkin was upset with his coaches before the tournament even started. According to Rossi, Malkin thought the Russian coaches tailored their systems to protect their inexperienced defense corps, rather than allowing their bevy of skilled forwards to roam free.

Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin also shared fears their playing styles wouldn’t mesh in such a short tournament. Despite those fears, they were played together anyway. Neither star was able to break out offensively.

According to Rossi, Malkin’s preferred linemate was Toronto Maple Leafs’ left-winger, and fellow Magnitogorsk native Nikolai Kulemin.

Until a few weeks before the Olympics, Malkin thought he was set to play on a line with Toronto’s Nikolai Kulemin, a fellow native of Magnitogorsk, Russia. They had played together for their hometown KHL club during the NHL lockout in 2012, with Malkin producing 65 points in 37 games.

(Kulemin produced 38 points in 36 games with Metallurg Magnitogorsk during the lockout. He did not score at the Olympics.)

Instead, Kulemin played on the third line alongside Artem Anisimov and Vladimir Tarasenko, playing anywhere between just under 13 minutes and 16 minutes. Kulemin has struggled for the Leafs offensively over the past three seasons, and those struggles continued in Sochi.

But if the Russian coaches had listened to Malkin and Ovechkin’s requests, Kulemin could have given Malkin a familiar linemate to play with, and Ovechkin could have been used on a different line, forcing opponents to have to deal with multiple highly skilled lines. We saw Mike Babcock and Team Canada employ that strategy to great effect with Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Ryan Getzlaf all on separate lines.

On the bright side for Penguins fans, it looks like Malkin will be highly motivated to rebound after his national team’s poor showing in his home country. Let’s hope Kulemin feels similarly.

Topics: 2014 Sochi Olympics, Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Nikolai Kulemin, Toronto Maple Leafs

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  • Scottie Smalls

    What’d I tell you before the Olympics? He’s more under-rated than anyone on that team. Don’t know where his line positioning went during the week and a half (probably played on each of the 4 lines) but watch out for him tonight, he’ll make the same noise the entire Russian team was supposed to make on their own home ice

    • Tim Bayer

      Interesting that he was manning the third-line centre spot in practice this morning.

      • Scottie Smalls

        That is interesting, even moreso with Bolland’s speculated return date. But remember with this team versatility seems to be a major strong point. Versatility is probably one of the reasons why Kulemin hasn’t been demoted or traded from this team.

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