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.


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.


  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    I’ve repeatedly posted this lineup over the past month.

    I had numerous comments directed at me asking if I was mental for putting Perron on the 3rd line.

    I got numerous trashes- I think 5-1 ratio for suggesting this exact lineup.

    I guess I’m getting trashed for the domination line more so then the suggestions I’m making.

  • Concur

    The problem with Grabovski is that the Oilers had the chance to talk to him last year and they didn’t. While I think he would be a good fit I don’t have any aspirations that the Oilers will even make a call.

  • Concur

    They solve a 2nd line issue at C with Grabo, add size with Kul. This move may also let Yak know the Oilers think of him as a core player. Making him feel needed and surrounding him with Russians might start the goal scoring we’ve heard about.

  • Paq Twinn

    So tired of hearing about these 2 guys. Im pretty sure there have been at least a dozen stories here at ON alone on these two and how theyre the Oilers corsi savoirs. These are not special players. Theyre not even specialized players. There are at least 50 players in the NHL that are exact replicas. But hey, maybe we need another dozen p o s stories on these plugs and how GREAT their corsi is!

    • Actually, if you figure they’re both middle of the pack second-liners, there are probably 120+ players in the NHL who can do what they do.

      These are members of the supporting cast. The special players are Hall and RNH and Eberle.

      As great as it would be for the Oilers to go add Getzlaf and Weber this summer, that’s not happening. These guys are appealing because they’re a realistic option.

    • Craig1981

      Who would be the better options Via free agency?

      I would love to see a story detailing where all the former Oilers from the last 5 years are.

      Most are out of the NHL.

  • Here’s the dilemma as I see it.

    Substitute the name Carlyle with the name Eakins and you pretty much have the same coaching philosophy and outlook on the game.

    Those players didn’t fit with that system and philosophy, I doubt very much the Oilers would consider both players let alone the player that openly bashed Carlyle.


  • Lexi


    I love the idea of the Grabo/Kulemin signing as I think they would be the best fit for Yak. They would also give them the option of using Perron to help get a top 4 Dman

    Any idea what other teams would be able and want to sign the combo. I don’t think there would be much competition. Maybe Buffalo, but they might be in Mcdavid mode, or Vancouver/Ottawa if they get rid of Kesler/spezza.

  • Lyxdeslic

    don’t get your hopes up. they will pick up a fringe D an another Hendricks, and a bunch of rookies will make the team. that’s it. let the McDavid sweepstakes begin.

    CHL rules, NBA, bluejays. NHL is number 4. Thanks KLowe for making it thus. why don’t you higher a few more buddies with no experience. it’s worked well for you.

  • IT was absolute foolishness that the Oilers didn’t take Grabovski of waivers last summer and then trade Gagner (whose value was at an all time high) for a defender, say Kulikov or equivalent.

    That grumble aside, if they could get Grabovski and Kulimen this summer, it would be huge for the team. It would also allow the team to send their first round pick back to junior for another year – “well Sam/Leon, if you want to stay in the NHL this year, you have to beat Grabovski out for the role. Good luck to you.”

  • knee deep in it

    Any NHL talent would be more welcome than a lot of our fill ins we are using now . It only delays the process of getting bigger and grittier , however . Maybe one of them , but not sold on getting both .

    • Yes.

      He has a history of out-scoring real NHL players along with his skill.

      You still get Gagner level skill, but with someone who knows how to play without the puck without cheating constantly for offence.

  • I like it. Although he’s another smallish forward, Grabovski plays with enough grit to compensate.

    The Canadiens proved this year that you can be successful with a smaller line up as long as you have players willing to battle.

    The Oilers need more Perrons and less Gagners…i.e. skill with grit

    The proposed Russian line would be fun to watch.

    MacT make it happen.

  • ubermiguel

    i’m not sure if those are the right boxes to be checking off, you get some nice size from one but not the centre, and we definitely don’t get harder to play against, that second line you have looks like a line that would fold its tents pretty easily.

    the biggest issue i saw last year was the teams ability to quit or simply not show up for entire games. that was the most difficult this to watch.

    hendricks became a fan favourite quickly because of his effort every shift. those types of players are the ones we need to focus on for this off season.

  • v4ance

    My ideal would be to sign Grabbo/Kule and then Niskanen and Anton Stralman. We’d patch big holes up front and get 2 Top 4 D who should both still be in the prime of their careers. It’s not a #1D but maybe it’ll get the job done via committee.

    I don’t want Markov because of injury and age issues. He would be close to the #1D we need but his recent injury history gives me no confidence that he could make it anywhere near a full season without breaking down AGAIN.

    • Jayz

      the Niskanen and Stralman idea is perfect. They would eat up some of Marincin’s and Ference’s minutes so that they can play more effective. Markov probably would have no interest to play here as he probably would want to win a stanley cup

  • v4ance

    I like the idea of these two. Sign Markov and Stoner as well. Bring in a associate coach with a Russian background.

    I’d run Lander/Yak minor on the Wing with Hendricks and Gordon.

  • Lyxdeslic

    I understand we need a 2c, and some 3rd line wings, but an actual real life top pairing dman is the #1 need here. Waiting, hoping and praying for the prospects is not gonna get us anywhere.

    • knee deep in it

      While I agree with you that a top pairing dman is the oilers biggest need, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to fill other holes. Kulemin and Grabo are two good players we could use and would only cost Katz money to acquire.