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.
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:
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:
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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