Leafs Talk: On Nikolai Kulemin and Metallurg Magnitogorsk

Curtis NgContributor IIIAugust 30, 2012

Nikolai Kulemin post-draft, sporting what appears to be a smile.
Nikolai Kulemin post-draft, sporting what appears to be a smile.Harry How/Getty Images

As the National Hockey League Players' Association prepares a counterproposal for the League as part of the ongoing collective bargaining agreement negotiations, rumours are slowly trickling through about NHL players heading overseas for the upcoming season in case of a lockout.

Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks and Rick Nash of the New York Rangers were both reported, though apparently incorrectly so, to be joining the Swiss hockey club HC Davos (h/t TSN).

Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals has been linked to the KHL's Dynamo Moscow, though the club does not appear overly enthused about a second coming.

From a Leaf fan's perspective, the following Twitter tidbit (twidbit?) should be of interest:

I'm sure Malkin, Gonchar, Kulemin in "Metallurg" Magnitogorsk during lockout. Well see 9/16.

— Pavel Lysenkov (@plysenkov) August 27, 2012

Nikolai Kulemin had a rough year in 2011-12, scoring only seven goals and 28 points in 70 games.

The ink is just about dry on Kulemin's two-year, $5.6 million contract extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he'll be expected to have a rebound year. It might not be with the Leafs.

Prior to joining the Blue and White in 2008-09, Kulemin, a native of Magnitogorsk, was a star prospect with his hometown Metallurg.

He was the linemate of none other than Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the best hockey player in the world last year.

The Nik Kulemin story, at least in the beginning, was kind of like the P.A. Parenteau story of recent years.

Parenteau was drafted in the ninth round, 264th overall, by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the 2001 draft.

He bounced around in the minors and played a handful of NHL games before landing in the New York Islanders' organization.

Playing alongside star centreman John Tavares, Pierre-Alexandre put together two incredible seasons, scoring 20 goals and 53 points in 2010-11 and 18 goals and 67 points in 2011-12.

Meanwhile, JT would score 29 goals and 67 points in 2010-11 and 31 goals and 81 points in 2011-12.

At first glance, it looks like a simple case of John Tavares making anyone he plays with look good.

The truth is, Parenteau's a pretty good player in his own right.

The following quote from former head coach of Metallurg Magnitogorsk Dave King is from a 2008 article published in the Toronto Star by Kevin McGran:

Everybody would assume that Malkin made Kulemin a great player. It was a combination of both players. Malkin's a great player, but Kulemin could really play with Malkin, read off Malkin. He's just a really good, really complete player. Any NHL organization that's got this man has a good player.

Now that the possibility of a reunion has emerged (though not necessarily how Leaf fans imagined it), perhaps it's time for us to jump on the Metallurg bandwagon.

How better to break out from your year-long slump than to play on a line with the guy who crushed the opposition en route to an Art Ross Trophy during the 2011-12 season; someone who just happens to be your former linemate from the good old days?

If you'll recall, Malkin had 12 more points than the next guy (Steven Stamkos), in seven fewer games, no less.

Though a full lockout would be awful, it is easy to forget that some players, like the Leafs' Morgan Rielly or Nazem Kadri, could benefit from a full year of dominating their respective leagues.

With an energized Kulemin, an eager Kadri, an NHL-ready Rielly and dare I say it, perhaps a newly drafted Nathan MacKinnon, the Toronto Maple Leafs will be legitimate playoff contenders (with or without MacKinnon) coming out of the possible full lockout.

Don't forget about the expiring contracts as well.

Tim Connolly and Matthew Lombardi's contracts are coming off the books after the 2012-13 season, lockout or no.

At least we've got something real to look forward to.

Any sane Leaf fan should have already accepted the possibility (probability?) of the Leafs missing the playoffs in 2012-13 (sadly, lockout or no). Of course, missing the playoffs could be tolerated (barely, by this writer anyway) if only the season would start on time.

After all, we just want to watch some freaking hockey.