Nikolai Kulemin of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates one of his four post-deadline goals. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
Maybe it’s the added ice time and responsibility or perhaps it’s the fact Nikolai Kulemin of the Toronto Maple Leafs has seen enough of the NHL to finally “get it.” More likely than not, it’s a combination of the two. Regardless of the reason, the 23-year-old has suddenly established himself as a solid fantasy player.
So how does one go from being a healthy scratch several times in October to being a penalty-killing specialist from November through February to being a first-line producer in March? It was a weird path to follow to be sure.
The late-bloomer was drafted just shy of his 20th birthday back in 2006 (44th overall) partly because of how well he played on a line with Evgeni Malkin in the World Junior Championship. He went on to score 48 goals over the next two seasons in the Russian Superleague. Could the Leafs be bringing over a potential 30-goal sniper? Poolies hoped so.
But Kulemin’s 15 goals and 31 points as a rookie last campaign left something to be desired. It was just good enough to lend hope that perhaps he could be a top-sixer, but not enough to convince that a 30-goal season would ever be in the cards. Getting scratched four times in October and spending more and more time on the second PK unit was causing many fantasy owners to sour on him.
But then something happened in Leaf land: Fire sale!
GM Brian Burke shipped out four forwards in January and only brought one back in the trades with Calgary and Anaheim. In March, he sent two more packing and again brought just one back. Suddenly, coach Ron Wilson was left with a choice: He could try Kulemin on the first line or go ask that guy sitting in Section C, Row 9, Seat 16.
Upon being placed on the No. 1 unit, Kulemin suddenly hit the net with aplomb, showing poise while surrounded with frantic action. In the nine games since the trade deadline, he has played at least 19 minutes in eight of them. He’s also averaged about three shots per game, up from 1.69.
The result has been four goals and nine points in nine contests, making him one of the better wingers in fantasy hockey to own right now. He’s certainly showing that 30 goals and 60 points could be in the offing in 2010-11. He’s getting the ice time and he’s taking more shots. As long his spot doesn’t get snatched up by a free agent signing this summer, Kulemin is as certain a dark horse as you will find…
While Brett Clark, John-Michael Liles and Kyle Quincey rotate in and out of Colorado coach Joe Sacco’s doghouse, you should be taking a look at Kyle Cumiskey. The 23-year-old rearguard missed five games with a concussion, but has four points in five games since returning. Earlier in the season, when Quincey was producing, Cumiskey wasn’t looked upon for offense from the blueline. Then a foot injury wiped out most of his December, so he really is under the radar in fantasy leagues.
Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Get the edge in your league - check out the latest scoop every Tuesday and Saturday throughout the season. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section.
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