On the eve of what should have been the Leafs first preseason game, a couple of Toronto’s locked-out players are making news overseas. Earlier today, Nikolai Kulemin played in his first game in Magnitogorsk alongside Evgeni Malkin.
The former Mettalurg linemates immediately displayed the chemistry that made them an effective combination in the past. Kulemin (wearing #14 for Mettalurg) quickly asserted his arrival, scoring the first goal of the game minutes into the match (courtesy of an assist by #71).
Mettalurg finished their beatdown of Neftekhimik with a 7-2 score. Kulemin and Malkin continued to be noticeable at even strength, although Malkin’s other two assists of the day came on power play goals that did not feature Kulemin. Nevertheless, Toronto’s favourite Russian played over sixteen minutes and threw four shots on goal.
If there is one player on the Maple Leafs whose game could use rejuvenating, it’s the steadfast winger that sputtered offensively last season. Playing with Malkin on what is a strong KHL team can only help. One aspect of this game in particular that was hopeful: Kulemin’s willingness to shoot the puck. This was definitely lacking in his game in 2011-2012 and was a direct factor in his limited offensive production.
In other KHL news, Mikhail Grabovski officially signed with CSKA Moscow today. There had been some rumors and discussions surrounding where the Belorussian would wind up, but he has now joined Datsyuk and Bryzgalov as locked-out players in CSKA. Grabovski has expressed his frustration because he won’t be playing for the Maple Leafs this year, but it should come as no surprise that the fiery center quickly found somewhere to play in the interim.
Grabovski joins one of the other stacked KHL teams in CSKA, captained by Alexander Radulov. As a center that some have compared to a poor-man’s Datsyuk, it will be interesting to see how the two function on the same club. One can only hope that Grabovski comes back having added some of Datsyuk’s slick moves to his already impressive arsenal. Both Metallurg and CSKA should be on the radar of hockey-starved Leafs fans as this lockout drags on indefinitely.