Nikolai Kulemin is the product of the Metallurg hockey system that has also produced other strong young prospects like Evgeny Malkin (PIT) and Dmitri Pestunov (PHO). He worked his way up through Metallurg’s system, delivering two strong campaigns with the club’s junior farm team before getting an opportunity to skate in the Super League during the 2005-06 season. Kulemin also skated for Russia’s 86 born U18 squad in several tournaments, including the 2004 U18 WJC.
During the 2005-06 season, Kulemin made his Super League debut and while this young forward was expected to play a strictly supporting role on the deep Metallurg roster, he managed to make a lot of impact and earned significant minutes on the club’s third line, and spent some time skating with future Pittsburgh Penguins super star Malkin. Kulemin primarily impressed with his work ethic, mature play and ability/willingness to play in traffic, fight against the boards and finally drive towards the net. The young forward further built on his breakout season by delivering a spectacular performance at the U20 WJC, where he scored several goals, harnessing his speed and drive towards the net.
Kulemin was eligible for the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, but it was unclear whether he elected not to be participate, or did not impress enough on the international arena to earn high grads from NHL scouts. The NHL – Russian Super League disagreements made it very difficult for any Russian to get drafted at the 2005 Draft and Kulemin had very little exposure that season, primarily skating for Metallurg’s junior farm team Metallurg 2. This year he has burst onto the scene and shows the maturity, speed and strength that have largely developed over the past couple of seasons.
2006-07: As a 20-year-old Kulemin led his Russian league team in goal scoring with 27 goals and, really, it wasn’t even close as the next player had only 17 tallies. He also added 41 penalty minutes in his 51 games played. He then proceeded to add 10 more goals in 15 playoff games. He signed a new one-year deal with Magnitogorsk Mettalurg for the 2007-08 season.
Read HF’s article on Nikolai Kulemin. 2007-08: In his second season with the senior club, Kulemin netted 21 goals and 12 assists in 57 games for Metallurg Magnitogorsk (Russia). He added two more goals and assists in 11 postseason appearances with the club.
Strong skater with an above average top speed…works very hard to get back into his zone…responsible defensively…drives hard towards the net and plays with a lot of intensity…has a solid frame, even though he is not overly big, he is physically built and plays bigger than his height…fights hard at the boards and in the corners… doesn’t avoid contact, in fact seems to look for it and bring the game to his opponents....not a very imaginative player, but makes solid, responsible decisions with the puck…works very hard in the corners and works well with his linemates, cycling the puck and making good decisions…possesses a very strong work ethic.
While Kulemin is unlikely to ever develop into a top line scoring sniper, his upside is that of a very capable third line checking forward who would also be able to fill in on the top lines in the case of injury. Kulemin’s game seems easily transferable to the NHL, and his physical style will work well now that he has filled out some and gained more strength.