Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin would solve a lot of problems for the Oilers

It’s been a month or so since player agent Gary Greenstin suggested that clients Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin could be a package deal in free agency this summer. The idea is likely not to impress many NHL teams, who might be able to want or afford one but not the other, or who just instinctively dislike the idea of being told they can’t have one without the other.

The Oilers, who could use both players, aren’t a team in a position to turn their noses up at an opportunity.

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Kulemin’s an interesting player in a lot of ways. Unlike a lot of free agents he’s still in the productive years of his career (he’ll turn 28 over the summer) and he’s a nice fit for the Oilers in terms of size (6’1”, 225 pounds).

Offensively, Kulemin hit the 30-goal mark in 2010-11 during a career shooting percentage year; he’s an 11.9 percent shooter over his time in the NHL and he scored at better than 17.0 percent clip that season. Looking at his career numbers, he’s averaged 16 goals and 21 assists per 82 games, which is pretty reasonable production, and if we allow for the possibility that he’s a better player than he has been in recent years (his offence has cratered with heavy defensive zone usage under Randy Carlyle) he might be even more productive than that.

For those who have objected that his Fenwick numbers stink, here’s what they look like over the last five years relative to his team after adjusting for zone starts:

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Using that method, Kulemin has outperformed his team in three of the last four seasons. While it’s true Toronto isn’t a great team that seems significant, particularly given the way notable players have struggled under Carlyle.

He’s a big forward with some scoring ability, a history of playing tough minutes, and he’s still in the prime of his career. He’s a nice fit for need in Edmonton.


Grabovksi doesn’t check the same boxes that Kulemin does, but he checks enough to be of interest to Edmonton, particularly if the team were to move Sam Gagner for a more rounded forward with less offensive potential.

Both smaller (5’11”, 183 pounds) and older (he turned 30 in January) than Kulemin, Grabovski brings more offensive upside (career average of 21 goals and 28 assists per 82 games played) and a nice record of outperforming his team in terms of zone start-adjusted Fenwick:

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This partial scouting report from McKeen’s Hockey does a nice job of summarizing his playing style:

[A] speedy, industrious playmaker .. feisty and fearless despite being undersized .. swiftly reaches top gear complemented by a low center of gravity and powerful lower body .. makes sharp lateral shifts and clever plays in tight spaces ..

He’s also a good faceoff man, over 50 percent three years running (peaking at 54.0 percent in 2013-14).

He’s not ideal, but the options at centre in free agency stink and he’d be an upgrade on Gagner.

Should They Do It?

Role Left Wing Centre Right Wing
Power vs. power Taylor Hall Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Jordan Eberle
Secondary scorers Nikolai Kulemin Mikhail Grabovski Nail Yakupov
Secondary tough mins. David Perron [Gagner trade] Mark Arcobello
Defensive zone Matt Hendricks Boyd Gordon Rotate-a-spare

Lowetide suggested a total of $8.0 million in cap hit for the duo next season in his look at rebuilding the Oilers yesterday. That’s a lot of money, but the duo would add two top-nine forwards to the Oilers and in combination with a Gagner trade would make the forwards look much, much better. If the two players really are interested in coming as a duo, Edmonton’s one of the few clubs that has the money and the need for both. I’d pull the trigger.


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  • Lyxdeslic

    Personally I like the idea and would welcome these players with open arms to the Oilers, but does this really make our team that much better? Kulemin finished this year with 2 points in his last 22 games. In the last three seasons he has yet to break the 10 goal mark and his highest point total was 28 points(70gp). Is he a realistic bet to put up enough offense to be a “secondary scorer”? As for Grabovski, him and Gagner both entered the league in the 07/08 season. Since then Grabovski has put up 252 points in 425 games (0.59 PPG), while Gagner has put up 295 points in 481 games (0.61PPG). Gagner is 24, Grabovski is 30 and they are extremely similar in size. Is it really justifiable to get rid of Gagner and replace him with a comparable player who just entered his 30’s, just because we want change? I must admit that my eyes light up at the potential of an all Russian/Belarusian scoring line, but realistically these signings might not make us much better.

  • It’s interesting how many people complain about having a bunch of AHL players on the roster and claim trading Gagner is addition by subtraction only to then turn their noses up at real live NHL players because they aren’t 250 pounds or teenage point per game phenoms.

  • MacT. and Eakins both want to get bigger at the same time more competitive players to surround our youth . I do not believe Grabs or Kulemin really suit that bill adequately . Not like the Sedin twins by getting them both . Doubt Oilers have much interest in getting both , or maybe even one of them to be honest .

  • Sparky Blue

    That these two want to play together would overcome the apparent anywhere but. Edmonton attitude most free agents seem to have. Plus on paper it looks good to add two NHLer’s to the fold instead of the coach’s kid. That said as it appears to make some sense the Oiler brain trust will nix the idea and focus on signing some 35 plus DMan to fill that never ending need.

  • ubermiguel

    Sign them both, keep Arco at centre, move Gagner to the wing, now we’re talking. I’m worried we’ll get very little back for Gagner and Coglinao seems to have done ok on the wing, maybe Gags will too.

  • Spoils

    I doubt just because Gags is 24 he will see an increase in offence. Gags dosen’t really do much other than shootouts. Gags is really streaky too. He dosen’t seem to practice other aspects(better shot,face offs,defense). He seems to think hands are the only thing in hockey. On a playoff team he would play wing on the 3rd line. I don’t know what scouts were thinking when they ranked him the top 10 for his draft. I don’t see why we keep giving Gagner expensive lunch either. C’mon Gags play like a 7th overall pick. I’d rather send you packing than overpay you

  • camdog

    Grabs and Kulemin are under appreciated players, so adding them to the organisation can’t hurt. The forward depth in the organisation is quite possibly the worst in the league. Would be nice to start Yakopov on the third line that way if he struggles you don’t have to hurt his feelings mid season and demote him to the second.

    If those 2 aren’t signed then Gags still is a fit in this organisation, however that fit is on the wing, where Oiler fans have wanted him so suit up for a couple of season now. Sad that the organisation’s denial of this, may lead to losing a serviceable top 9 forward, because the organisation is to arrogant to admit he is what he is, and that’s a second line winger.

  • camdog

    Dallas Eakins was the assistant coach of the TML in 2007-2008, the year before Grabovski and Kulemin made the team in 2008-2009. Dallas was moved to the head coaching position for the Marlies that year. It would be guaranteed that he will have some awesome behind the scenes information on those two guys in his little note book. If both end up as Oilers, it’s based solely on Dallas’s scouting internally while with the Maple Leaf organization. Grabo. and Kul. not playing in Toronto may have more to do with how they were used under Carlyle as outlined above by JW. Regime changing in Washington makes Grabovski a casualty also.

  • Spoils

    This checks some boxes, but I vote no.

    I want the oilers to focus on the 4-6 yr horizon when the#1s are still at their peak and the young d core is ready- nurse, Schultz, klefbom, marincin, (Ekblad).

    Looking at the depth of teams like L.A. and CHI, I think we need more pieces than common analysis suggests.

    And we have precious few assets to trade with.

    The players we get should still be effective in 4yrs, so no older than 27.

  • Dockstaff

    I don’t like Grabovski because he’s a different version of what we already have. His FO% is only a little better than Gagner, 50% vs. 43%. He almost doubles Gagner in hits and gives the puck away less, but takeaways and blocked shots are just as poor. He compares to Gags in foot speed, scoring, and hands, but older.

    I don’t see the improvement!

  • Wax Man Riley

    I just want to see real NHL players. Not 19 or 20 year old kids trying to make the team, just being good enough on this last place club. I don’t want AHL journeymen that get a cup of coffee in the NHL and now they are good enough for 2nd line duty.

    Real, mature, experienced players. Watching the playoffs has been great, but incredibly depressing when you think about Jesse Joensuu, Philip Larsen, Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov to name a few.

  • camdog

    We may be missing an essential point. Yes they have the same Agent and that may assist in negotiations and perhaps bring some economies of scale on the salary. But the key point is that they obviously want to play together and perhaps they know instinctively that they can be better together. Motivation to play better. Besides we have Yak and two more Russian forwards coming down the pipeline–this good be a good transition for the young ones.

  • Concur

    Draft Draisaitl, Trade Gagner for Umberger, sign Legwand, Heatly, and Winnik, Bam! The Oilers are now a western Contender at least in terms of size and skill.

    The defence would need to resign Petry and Shultz, and then add a vet Right or Left side defender who can switch. From there it’s only a matter of time until Marincin, Schultz, Klefbomb, and Nurse can develop into our defence core.

    Hall Nuge Ebs

    Umberger Legwand Perron

    Heatly Draisaitl Yak

    Hendricks Gordon Winnik

  • deantime419

    Grabovski is a much better fit for our L2 center than Gagner. Gagner has more “upside,” but to be honest I don’t think he deserves to play with the players that would get him to reach his upside. He’d need ot be traded to a team where that teams number one center got all the tough minutes and he was used as a L2 scoring center with outstanding wingers.
    sure, Grabo isn’t big but he’s capable of playing tough minutes in a semi-checking role, wins more faceoffs than Gagner, and is probably a better goal scorer.
    Kulemin doesn’t have to necessarily be a top 6er and is a hell of an upgrade over any other bottom 6 wingers we’ve had lately.
    Grabo and Kulemin could even be given tough matchups and maybe Draisaitl or Arcobello steps up and gives us some scoring on a sheltered line with Yak or something.
    If we can unload Gagner for a useful return i really like bringing these two in.
    I like both better than Umberger (who I wouldn’t want unless the Jackets took at least a mil of his salary and threw in a pick and maybe Frattin).