Where Has All The Kulemin Gone?

By this point last year, Nikolai Kulemin had posted 4 goals and 5 assists on 26 shots, during a "slow start" en route to a 30 goal 57 point season.  So far this year he has 2 goals and 4 assists on 25 shots, during an even SLOWER start, en route to lord knows what kind of production.  And yet, all is not lost.

Last year Kulemin was "cold" early, netting only 1 goal through his first 10 games, before heating up in November and potting 8 goals in 13 games.  The funny thing about that is, he had 3 goals through the first 3 games of November, but then he bunched his production of the other 5 goals into another 3 games throughout the month.  He only scored goals in 6 of the 13 games, so it wasn't like he was amazingly consistent to produce those 8 goals.  Through the first 2 months last year he had goals in only 7 of his first 16 games.  

 

That bunching effect is what has been missing so far, and most of it started when he began shooting more.  He had two games with 2 goals, where he fired away 5 and 6 shots respectively.  He also had a game with 7 shots on goal mixed in there.  Between November 16th and 30th last season, over the course of 7 games, Kulemin fired a boggling 31 shots on goal, or over 4 per game.  This was the stretch where he produced 5 of his early goals.

Why is this relevant you may ask? Well because Kulemin has recently picked up his shot production. From games 1 to 6, Kulemin only had 4 shots on goal, or less than 1 per game.  Then from games 7 to 11, he produced 10 shots, or over 2 per game.  Incidentally he scored a goal and had 2 assists in this stretch.  Then, inexplicably, he had zero shots in the games vs. Columbus and New Jersey (which wasn't particularly horrid as the Leafs won both games).  He still managed to produce an assist, but that isn't the type of production he's looked to for particularly.

Recently he appeared to be heating up again with 4 shots against Boston, 6 shots against Florida, but in games against St. Louis and Ottawa he has managed only 1 shot again through 2 games. He provided 10 shots in 2 games, but then dipped to 1 over the next 2... that's ANYTHING but consistent.  

Considering that line mates Clarke MacArthur and Mikhail Grabovski have both had up and down seasons so far, despite producing more offensively than Kulemin, it's no shock that the trio has yet to be firing on all cylinders.  MacArthur has 6 goals and 8 points, while Grabovski has 5 goals and 10 points, so both are on pace to roughly repeat their seasons of last year in terms of points (45 pt pace for MacArthur, 48 pt pace for Grabovski).

Kulemin is on pace for a 29 point season, by far his worst as a Leaf, including even his rookie season.  He's dragging the other two skaters on his line down a tad also, as both MacArthur and Grabovski generated a lot of their production on assists they were credited for on goals scored by Kulemin.  If and when his production returns, their numbers will jump accordingly.

So what's the real problem with Kulemin's shot generation?  A drop in minutes won't help particularly, but Kulemin isn't just seeing fewer minutes.  He's firing fewer shots on net than he did in his rookie season, when he was playing even lower minutes nightly, largely on the 3rd or 4th line.  Well for starters, he's fired 21 attempts that have missed the net (1.24 misses per game).  Last season he only missed the net on shot attempts 67 times in 82 games (0.82 misses per game), so his rate of missed shots has increased by 50% over last year - that's not a positive trend.  This might be an indication that he's trying to be too fine around the net, and looking to pick corners rather than just putting the puck on net and hoping goalies make a mistake.  Also when one considers the fact that he's playing fewer minutes, his missed shots are exaggerated even further.  Last year his missed shot rate was 2.83 per 60 minutes of ice time (in all situations), while so far this year it's 4.67 per 60 minutes of ice time.  That's actually an increase of 65% over last year, so the missed shots problem is far worse than we may notice just by looking at the simple totals.

As far as shot attempts that have been blocked, Kulemin has only had his shot prevented on 12 occasions this season, so this too might be an indicator.  There is a chance that in his efforts to avoid having his shots blocked he is changing his shooting angles, and thus missing the net more frequently.  This is a harder value to tabulate - I have been loading every event sheet for every game thus far, which I'm not about to do for last season - so from a comparison perspective I don't know if this is a drastic change from last year, but for a player that shoots relatively frequently 12 blocked shots seems low so far on the season. In an effort to find numbers for comparison I tabulated the missed and blocked attempts for Mikhail Grabovski, Phil Kessel, and Joffrey Lupul on the year so far in the chart below.

Player S BS MsS G Overall S%
Nikolai Kulemin 25 12 21 2 3.4%
Mikhail Grabovski 36 26 5 5 7.5%
Phil Kessel 57 19 26 12 11.8%
Joffrey Lupul 49 20 16 9 10.6%

So in looking at these numbers, Kulemin has had 33 attempts miss or blocked and he's had 25 on net (43.1% on goal); Grabovski has had 31 miss or blocked and 36 on net (53.7% on goal); Kessel has had 45 miss or blocked and 57 on net (55.9% on goal); and Lupul has had 36 miss or blocked and 49 on net (57.6% on goal).

Obviously Kulemin isn't hitting the net enough to generate good production at this point, and frankly it's affecting his production rather drastically.  In order to get the 2nd line in gear, and in order for Kulemin to see better production, his shots are going to have to get on net more frequently.  He needs to work on just getting pucks on net, and less about having them go in at this point.

Lastly, the excuse of competition levels doesn't hold for Kulemin either at this point, as the competition he's facing so far this year is easier than it was last year.  Much of this is likely internal to Kulemin's mind set and the way in which he is attacking the opposition goal so far this season.  He has seemed quite capable in some games of generating a solid drive to the net, and getting good chances around the goal, but the level of consistency he has shown from game to game with these efforts has been atrocious.  In many ways it should come as no shock to Leafs fans that the Leafs two most disappointing players so far this year are likely Luke Schenn and Nikolai Kulemin, who last year registered career highs in points and ice time.  

If the Leafs hope to continue to develop and improve, they need the likes of Kulemin to continue to make positive strides, and unfortunately right now it looks like he's been taking a significant step back.  Let's hope he turns it around sooner rather than later.
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