Star Power Potential: Nikolai Kulemin's Game Mirrors Red Wings' Super Star

Jon Neely@@iamjonneelyAnalyst ISeptember 5, 2010

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 13:  Nikolai Kulemin #41 of the Toronto Maple Leafs waits for a faceoff in a game against the Edmonton Oilers on March 13, 2010 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario. The Leafs defeated the Oilers 6-4. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Claus Andersen/Getty Images

It's not uncommon for young NHL players get compared to star players. In fact, it happens all the time.

It is done to show where an inexperienced player's potential could take them and what it might look like when they get there.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have no shortage of youngsters on their roster for the upcoming 2010-2011 season, but there is one in particular whose play and style is close to player who is widely considered as a superstar in the NHL.  

Nikolai Kulemin plays a lot like Pavel Datsyuk.

Datsyuk, the Detroit Red Wings star, has been a major part of two Stanley Cup victories in 2002 and 2008.  He is the second player in history to win the Lady Byng Trophy four consecutive seasons, from 2006-2009, as well as two Selke Trophies, in 2008 and 2009.

The two-time All-Star has led the Red Wings in scoring for the past five seasons.

Nikolai Kulemin has done absolutely nothing in his short NHL career to earn a comparison with Datsyuk and his long list of achievements, and yet the two share a very similar style of play.  Leafs Nation hopes Kulemin accumulates a laundry list similar to his counterpart over the next few years.

Now, before you start burning up your computer keys in the comment section, attacking the audacity of this suggestion from every possible angle, allow me to explain—because there's more to this than just the fact these two could be confused as brothers off the ice.

Or that both would much rather speak to you in Russian than English.

It starts on defense, a position neither of these two plays, yet both excel at when called upon. There's no argument as to Datsyuk's defensive abilities, having won the Selke Trophy for the NHL's best defensive forward multiple times, but it was last season that Kulemin started to shine at the back end, especially while on the penalty kill.

Admittedly, it's not hard to shine on the league's worst team while shorthanded.

Kulemin's vision while killing a penalty was almost shocking last season, as he would routinely stand out amongst the carnage of the Leafs special teams, and his puck awareness and positioning was second to none on the club.

Very similar to Datsyuk.

Next is Kulemin's tenacity when it comes to battling for the puck, especially in the corners. He's by no stretch of the imagination a small man, standing 6'1", 225 lbs, but when up against a much bigger and stronger defender in the corner, he makes a habit of winning the fight and gaining possession.

Something the Red Wing stud regularly does as well.

Stick-handling, a skill Datsyuk loves to show off when making space or removing the jock from goaltenders that are unfortunate enough to have to face him in the shootout, is another trait that these two share. Kulemin doesn't have the library of highlights stock-piled in his back pocket like his fellow Russian sniper does, but there were moments of brilliance last season.

And the potential is there for plenty more of that.

Near the end of last season, it was apparent that Kulemin was in the midst of his coming out party, as he went from hiding behind players with leading roles to stepping up and taking control on the ice. With the new-look Leafs starting fresh this year, Kulemin will be looked upon to play an important role in more than one area for the club.

Though it's likely he'll never reach the skill level of Datsyuk, nor his impressive list of achievements by age 32, if there was one player he should strive to mirror in this league, the Red Wings stud is the man.

The similarities are there, but it's up to Kulemin to reach the potential.

Fresh off signing a new contract he will have all the opportunity in the world to take his game to a level where people are looking at young players in the future, and comparing them to a Kulemin in the making.