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октября 2008 года.
Leafs rookie Kulemin is on the fast track // Toronto Star
Already, it's apparent NHL competition this season will be waged at supersonic speed.
The league, it's clear, has never been faster.
Only a decade ago, there were probably 50 players in the league who could be identified as average to poor skaters. A decade before that, there were probably 100.
Dave Andreychuk forged an outstanding career despite being, um, awkward on skates, and Brad Marsh was one defenceman whose ability to think the game far outpaced his ability to get anywhere with speed.
These days, those types of players don't exist, or at least they are a dying breed. It's a transformation of the NHL that occurred simultaneously with hardened enforcement of hooking and interference rules after the lockout.
All of which brings us to Nikolai Kulemin. This is not to say that Kulemin, scorer of the winning goal in the Maple Leafs' stunning 3-2 upset of the defending champion Detroit Red Wings on Thursday, is the new Pavel Bure. He's not that quick. Few were, or are.
But it's pretty clear that while a lack of wheels all but eliminates you as a candidate for NHL work now, having good speed and big-league quickness gives you a better chance.
After one NHL game, Kulemin appears to have that chance.
He wasn't exactly doing doughnuts all over the ice in Motown, but he was quick to dart through holes and showed great anticipation to intercept a Daniel Cleary pass intended for Val Filppula and pot the game winner.
The 22-year-old Russian proved he has the zip on skates to compete in a fast game with lots of puck movement, and he can anticipate a similar type of game tonight against the speedy Montreal Canadiens.
How Kulemin fares against clubs interested in grinding it out a bit more, of course, will define whether he can develop into an everyday player and dependable offensive contributor.
But the fact he can skate gives him more than a puncher's chance.
Ditto for Jiri Tlusty, and if he and Kulemin turn out to be breakthrough-type players for the Leafs this year, it will be a bit of a problem for those who like to blame John Ferguson Jr. entirely for the current state of the team.
Ferguson, after all, drafted both players with the club's first two picks in the 2006 draft, Nos. 13 and 44. Ferguson believed Kulemin would be an impact player this season; now we'll see if he was right.
A year ago, the Leafs were anything but a fast team, icing a team on opening night that included Andy Wozniewski, Bates Battaglia, Ian White, Kris Newbury and Hal Gill. They're all gone. Along with Kulemin and Tlusty, the Leafs have incorporated players into their lineup like ex-Hab Mikhail Grabovski, who looks like a left-handed Sergei Berezin out there, and speedy Niklas Hagman, while Carlo Colaiacovo – not in the lineup this time a year ago – Luke Schenn and Mike Van Ryn are more mobile than those from the blue-line corps who have departed.
Dominic Moore, added partway through last year, is a true speed merchant and he's going to get a regular role with this year's Leafs. Defenceman Anton Stralman was a healthy scratch on Thursday, but he can flat out fly.
On its own, enhanced team speed won't save this year's Leafs, and the one victory achieved so far under Ron Wilson shouldn't yet be accorded more weight or significance than the other 117 post-lockout triumphs registered under the coaching of Pat Quinn and Paul Maurice.
Many of those wins, you'll remember, were often trumpeted as signs of progress and adaptation for the Leafs in the "new" NHL, and they weren't anything of the kind.
The victory in Detroit, really, just illustrated the Leafs are trying to do business a different way.
They may get beat. But they shouldn't be outskated.