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|Kulemin happy to remain with Toronto; Longest tenured Leaf working out his new role.
8 февраля 2014 года. Traikos, Michael. National Post
For years, they were Toronto's version of the Sedins.
It did not matter that Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin were not really brothers nor were they born in the same country. They were inseparable, though. They sat next to each other in the dressing room, use the same agent, roomed together on the road, and played on the same line.
Even their wives were best friends.
So when the Toronto Maple Leafs bought out Grabovski last summer, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before Kulemin would follow him out the door. Kulemin is a pending unrestricted free agent whose name has been mentioned in trade rumours recently, but he said what happened to his former teammate has no bearing on his immediate future.
"I would love to stay," Kulemin said. "I like everything here. It's the only team I've played for. I like the organization and everything. We'll see how it goes. Nothing changed for me when Grabovski left. Yeah, I was really close with him. But there's a lot of guys here that have played with me for a long time."
It is easy to forget how long Kulemin's tenure is. He was drafted by John Ferguson Jr. in 2006, was there for coach Ron Wilson's first day on the job in 2008, and has played with everyone from Nik Antropov and Pavel Kubina to Vesa Toskala and Alex Steen.
He is the longest-serving current Leaf. And in three games will be the first player since Tomas Kaberle to have played 400 games with Toronto. That is, if he sticks around long enough to reach the milestone.
According to TSN's Darren Dreger, the Leafs have told teams that Kulemin is available ahead of the March 5 trade deadline and are asking for a "substantial player" in return. Pittsburgh, speculated as a potential destination because Kulemin has a playing history with Evgeni Malkin, had a scout watching the Leafs' game against the Panthers on Tuesday night.
Kulemin is likely available because David Clarkson is signed for the next seven years and prospects such as Josh Leivo and Jerry D'Amigo are close to making the full-time jump from the minors. The Leafs would not likely bring Kulemin back in a non-scoring role.
Still, the 26-year-old is valuable enough to be selected to Russia's Olympic team and
has been credited for jumpstarting Toronto's second line with his physical presence on the forecheck.
"Kuly does a lot of the grunt work," head coach Randy Carlyle said. "He's the big-bodied guy that's down in the corners doing the forechecking and when he's hitting and physical, he's a hard guy to play against."
"A lot of the times some of the things he does go unnoticed," said Nazem Kadri, who has four goals and 11 points in the nine games since Kulemin joined his line. "He's a great defensive player. I think he brings maybe a little bit more responsibility to the line.
"But [Kulemin] can score too. He's got a hell of a shot. I wish I had a shot like that."
T he L eafs, meanwhile, probably wish Kulemin would use his shot more. He scored 30 goals in 2010-11, but has not come close to that level since. He has eight goals and 17 points this season.
Kulemin, though, has mostly been stuck in a defensive role ever since Carlyle arrived in Toronto. His shot attempts seem to reflect that. Despite having a 15.4 shooting percentage - third-best among Leafs who have played 30 or more games - he has taken only 52 shots this season.
The reduced role was an issue for Grabovski, who called Carlyle an "idiot" on his way out of Toronto. Kulemin might not share his former teammate's sentiments, but it is clear that he relishes an expanded role.
"I play a little more offence now and get more chances," Kulemin said. "I like to play with those guys and play more of an offensive role. I think it's just more freedom, more offensive zone time.
"It gives you more chances to score. I like it that way."