Confidence, thy name is Vladimirovich

Nikolai Kulemin

Nikolai Kulemin, 2011-12: 70 games, 7 goals, 21 assists – 28 points. Numbers far below his NHL caliber.

“If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life.”

– Marcus Garvey

Lockout. KHL, Metallurg Magnitogorsk with Evgeni Malkin. Nikolai Kulemin, 2012-13: 17 games, 6 goals, 5 assists – 11 points. Average ice time: 18:37.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been one to look on the bright side of things. The aforementioned trio (“Magnitka”, Malkin and lockout) could turn out to be very bright for Kulemin’s future.

Besides goals, confidence is the main thing that Nikolai Vladimirovich Kulemin lacked this past season. And boy did it show. A whiffed shot, a simple pass gone awry or a snake bite after all those whiffed shots and ill advised passes. You could clearly see he simply didn’t have it. It being mojo, that certain something a player only gets when he’s got his offensive game going.

In 2007, he was the Russian Superleague MVP. On April 5, 2011, Kulemin became the first Russian-born Toronto Maple Leaf to score 30 goals in a season since Alexander Mogilny scored 33 in 2002-2003. He, along with Mats Sundin, Phil Kessel and Mogilny, are the only Leafs to score 30 or more since the 1999-2000 NHL season. The Leafs need him back and his contract demands it. This strong, two-way Russian dynamo still needs to prove he’s capable of consistently serving as a top-six forward.

What better way to reclaim said mojo than to play with the reigning Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner, Evgeni Vladimirovich Malkin. James Neal certainly wasn’t complaining last season, when he scored 40 goals and turned into an over a point-per-game producer (81 points in 80 games played). His highest NHL point total up to that point? 55.

Did that experience turn James Neal into a better player? Look at it this way. He is now a 40 goal guy. The players, management and the entire league now consider him to be a 40 goal scorer. However, the big thing is that he too now thinks of himself as a 40 goal scorer. He will always have the drive to continue being that 40 goal scorer. It’s a mindset thing. Regardless of Malkin, now he knows he can.

Feeding from THIS can make you better player. Also, not only is Kulemin simply playing with Malkin, he’s learning what it takes to be that good. Don’t be surprised if our #41 makes a strong comeback to the NHL. Leaf fans could easily see a repeat of the 2010-11 version or maybe, just maybe, something even better.

If that happens, we’ll have the lockout, the KHL and Geno to thank for it. After all, some curses are not without blessings. For the time being, the Vladimirovich bros are making the most of that opportunity, striking fear into the rest of the KHL.