We're first place in the Eastern Conference. How nice does that sound? A combination of hockey euphoria and life has kept me from posting recently but I'm back and hope to have a lot to talk about.
Having watched the first five games of the year I have to say that I have developed a full-fledged infatuation with Nikolai Kulemin.
While Clark MacArthur is getting most of the play in media circles, I can honestly say there is no player that has made me happier than Kulemin. After being forced off of the top unit by the acquisition of Kris Versteeg, I was more than a little worried about what might happen to the poor guy. He'd done nothing but play hard the season before, had earned every cent (as much as an athlete can anyway) of his $2.25 million extension and yet he found himself demoted in the depth chart.
He could have let it get him down, he could have dragged his feet, but he didn't. What he did was turn into the straw that has stirs the drink on the Leafs strongest line to start the year.
The forechecking that Kulemin and Grabovski have laid on opposition defense corps is something to behold. They're recovering the puck in the offensive zone with regularity and the cycle game that the two of them have established has led to numerous opportunities for each other and for MacArthur.
Last season the Leafs struggled to find a top unit that would work until they put Kessel, Bozak and Kulemin together. Kulemin was the glue on that line with his grit and defensive presence, allowing the other two to be the types of players they are. Versteeg adds more of the same with a little more flash to the top unit which has allowed Kulemin to elevate Grabbo and MacArthur to the level of 'dangerous second scoring threat' to start the year.
Kulemin is a guy that's easy to love. His contract is modest, he works hard, checks hard and plays very strong positional defence. He had the chance to go to Russia and play against weaker opposition for more money and he stuck around. The way he plays the game is suitable to a checking line or a secondary scoring line which makes him one of the most versatile forwards on the team. As the Leafs acquire more talent, there will always be a place for Kulemin in the lineup.
With four points in five games, I think we can safely say that Kulemin will shatter his previous career high for points of 36 which he set last season. This is the kind of development we need to see from our young lineup if we're going to make serious noise this year.
We may only be five games deep into the season, but I'm already drinking the Kul-Aid. Oh yeah!