Since Pittsburgh Penguins general manager, Jim Rutherford traded F James Neal to the Nashville Predators, Rutherford has been scouring the NHL for a replacement. One of these possible replacements include F Nikolai Kulemin of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Kulemin’s points production on the Maple Leafs have been wishy-washy. During the 2010-11 season, Kulemin scored 30 goals and accumulated 27 assists for a total of 57 points, but that was his best year. Last year, Kulemin only scored nine goals and accumulated 11 assists for a total of 20 points. If Rutherford is looking for someone to replace Neal’s scoring abilities, signing Kulemin might not be the best route.
Although Kulemin has lacked in the scoring department, he still possesses a lot of positive attributes that Neal doesn’t. Kulemin, who once played alongside good friend Evgeni Malkin, is a better skater than Neal. Kulemin is versatile and can play either side of the wing, which would be perfect for Malkin if the rest of the Penguins’ second line gets a rebuild.
Even though Kulemin doesn’t have a history of being a top goal scorer, he has the potential to eventually become one if paired with Malkin once again.
Kulemin also possesses a larger frame than Neal, and he knows how to use it without drawing unnecessary penalties. Last season, Kulemin drew just 24 PIMs in 70 games, whereas Neal drew 26 PIMs during 59 regular season games and 24 in the playoffs. Kulemin’s career high PIMs in the NHL is just 26 and Neal’s career high PIMs in the NHL spans past 60.
Kulemin also comes at a cheaper price than most, which would help defer the Penguins’ salary cap from topping out.
No one will know if Kulemin could be the right replacement for Neal unless he signs with the Penguins and takes to the ice in black and gold come October.