Marginal goals, shot quality, and Nikolai Kulemin

The question I’ve had the most fun with this offseason is asking whether Nikolai Kulemin is more likely to score over 35 goals or fewer than 25. Kulemin came off a season of 30 goals and 57 points playing on the revamped MGK line with Clarke MacArthur and Mikhail Grabovski, as part of a unit that was quite often dubbed “the best 2nd line in hockey“.

Kulemin climbed from .21 goals per game over the course of his career to a .37 goals per game ratio last season in an improvement that saw his shooting percentage spike from 11.3 per cent over the course of his career to 17.3 per cent last season, and “team-high” on-ice shooting percentages (min. 60 games) and PDO of 10.11 and 101.8, respectively.

In short, by looking at percentages alone, we would not be able to assume that Kulemin has any shot of breaking the 35-goal barrier and he was lucky to get 30 last season. However thanks to the increase of “performance numbers” we can chart as to how much of Kulemin’s break-out was due to the general improvement of a young hockey player and how much was due to luck.

I introduced on Friday a new way to track shooter performance year-to-year over at Nucks Misconduct. On Sunday, JP Nikota took to the pages of this humble Maple Leafs blog to point out the improvements in Kulemin’s shooting locations over the past three years. In general, our data seems to sync up. Kulemin was one of the more dangerous shooters in the NHL last season, at 22 even strength marginal goals, he was tied with Patrick Marleau, John Tavares, Alex Burrows and Brian Gionta for 20th in the NHL.

Whether this performance comes from increased ice-time with Grabovski, or a one-year outlying season, it remains clear that Kulemin did have a successful year and his surface numbers reflected that.

I’m not going to go on record making any predictions, but I can come up with a similar conclusion as JP and suggest that Kulemin’s year had more to do with better shot selection and location than it had to do with variance and that should be a very pleasing bit of information for Leaf fans.

Also, via Dobber Hockey is a video of every goal scored last year by Nikolai Kulemin. Enjoy.