The Pittsburgh Penguins will be entering free agency having only seven forwards on the roster, and are expected to be coveting said position on Tuesday.
Adding right winger Patric Hornqvist in a deal that sent James Neal to Nashville, center Evgeni Malkin is still without a left winger, considering the team will probably not be able to retain Jussi Jokinen. And general manager Jim Rutherford intends to fish Malkin a new winger – per Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
According to Yohe, one of the players general manager Jim Rutherford is said to pursue is forward Nikolai Kulemin.
Kulemin, 27, has spent his entire career with the Toronto Maple Leafs, after being selected by them in the second round (44th overall) of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. He’s also apparently Malkin’s best friend, considering the two are natives of Magnitogorsk, Russia, and played together as linemates for Team Russian during these past Winter Games, and for Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), per Yohe.
Kulemin was tossed around the lineup this past season in Toronto, and found himself playing on the third-line down the stretch. And because he’s reportedly seeking a top-six role, and arguably have a cheap asking price, Kulemin could very well wind up joining his good buddy Malkin in Pittsburgh next season.
Although Kulemin’s last four seasons have been mediocre in terms of production, he’s not far off from being the 30-goal scorer he was during the 2010-11 campaign. Given he’ll be paired with Malkin – a top-three player in the league – and they already have a history of skating together, Kulemin’s contributions could potentially be invaluable to the Pens, just like Jokinen was. Think Ruslan Fedotenko, back when he was on Malkin’s unit.
However, it will come down to how much he demands. Pittsburgh only has a little over $14 million in cap space – per Cap Geek – and they’ll need money to fill-out the rest of their roster, and improve the secondary set of forwards.
Nonetheless, Kulemin’s addition would be an intriguing investment.