When the Islanders inked both Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin to four year contracts on July 2nd, it was a given that they would play together. If you look at any stat you want, whether it’s as simple as points or as in-depth as advanced stats, they will prove to you that these two players simply make each other better. In Elliotte Friedman’s final 30 thoughts column of the summer, he spoke with Jack Capuano about reuniting Kulemin and Grabovski:
"As for Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin, Capuano did not promise that they would be united, “But, we do know what the advanced stats say about them together.” (Hint: they are good.)"
Yes, those advanced stats are very, very good. Just in general, Grabovski is a possession monster. Last year on a Capitals team that had poor possession numbers and struggled five on five, he had a 51.0 Corsi rating which is very good. Kulemin also had a career year while playing with Grabovski and Clarke Macarthur 3 seasons ago in Toronto, so Grabo may be able to help Kulemin find his scoring touch once again. While playing with Grabovski and Macarthur in 2010-2011, Kulemin potted 30 goals but hasn’t come close since then.
It is obvious that Kulemin and Grabovski have great chemistry, but what is really going to get that line to roll is the player who plays with them. Jack Capuano will need to try some different players during training camp and push the right buttons so that line is rolling out of the gate next season. To me, there are four legitimate candidates for this job heading into camp:
1) Josh Bailey- Bailey is certainly an interesting candidate for this job. The former first round pick would obviously bring great playmaking ability and vision to the line. I say Bailey is such an interesting candidate for this job because he has never played with either Kulemin or Grabovski in his career. Therefore, this may be an opportunity for Bailey to resurrect his disappointing career to this point. It may be a bit of a stretch, but it’s certainly food for thought.
2) Michael Grabner- Grabner brings the element of speed to any line he’s on and it would be no different with this one. Both Kulemin and Grabovski are very good skaters and would be able to keep up with Grabner. My biggest concern is I just don’t know if Grabner has the skill to play with Grabovski and Kulemin. I think it’s going to be interesting to see what Grabner can do with skilled linemates whether its on the third line with Frans Nielsen or the second with Grabovski. I would love to see what Grabner can do with those guys and not players like Keith Aucoin, Peter Regin and Colin McDonald.
3) Ryan Strome- The young center(turned winger for now) possesses all the skill in the world. You saw it at the end of last year when he played with Matt Martin and Colin McDonald and managed to turn both of them into offensive threats every night. With Strome and Grabovski on his line, it will be very hard for Kulemin to not get back to his 20+ goal self. Kulemin’s size and checking ability may also help free up some space for the undersized Strome to utilize his tremendous vision and make things happen out there. Strome will make the players on any line he plays on better, but I think he’s a tremendous fit on this particular line.
4) Anders Lee- Lee is entering his first full season on the big club and in his short taste of NHL action last year he proved to everyone he is a pure goal scorer. Lee possesses size, speed and strength and has what you would call an “NHL body.” Interestingly enough, Lee reminds me a lot of Nikolai Kulemin in that he’s big, can check and goes to the “dirty areas” of the ice. The problem here is I don’t see Lee being very effective on a line with a player that is just like him in Kulemin. In my opinion, his skills would be better suited on the third line with guys like Frans Nielsen and Josh Bailey who can get pucks to the net and set Lee up.
In my mind, Ryan Strome should get a very long look at this wing spot in training camp. For all of the aforementioned reasons, Strome is a great choice to play with Kulemin and Grabovski. This job should be Strome’s to lose going into training camp. It will be very interesting to watch this play out, as Garth Snow has created some serious competition at forward heading into camp.
Who do you think should play with Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski this season? Vote below!