Nikolai Kulemin, and an introduction to “shooter regression”

Nikolai Kulemin has a difficult task ahead. It’s going to be convincing fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs that he can be more than a seven-goal scorer.

That’s all Kulemin had last season. A year after a career campaign where the silent Russian notched 30, he came back down to earth in a big way and now faces a tiring restricted free agency battle.

He’s an interesting case, his last two years marked with two extremes.

Much of the criticism directed at Kulemin in the past six months is due to his lack of scoring. It’s where fans begin to make psychological evaluations without having met Kulemin or seen him work out. He’s soft, he doesn’t use his size, he doesn’t find the open areas, enough.

Shot selection

A lot of what happened with Kulemin was shooting percentage regression. Last offseason, we discussed the matter about Kulemin on this very blog, but myself and JP Nikota, both thinking optimistically, came to the conclusion that Kulemin’s improved goal totals were thanks to shot selection and quality:

From JP:

I think that Kulemin’s game has improved substantially so as to afford him better chances on net, and that this is a sustainable aspect of his game. Goals that come from outside a ten-foot radius outside of the crease and the low slot? Not so sustainable. If I had to hazard a guess, I think we’re looking at a player whose shooting percentage will dip to the 13-15% range, and, without a large (and unprecedented) increase in his shot totals, we’re looking at a 22-25 goal-scorer.

From myself:

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.

Suffice to say, we both overshot the landing. One of the problems with location-based shot analysis is that the system seems biased towards goals, as in, a recorder will value a goal to be a little bit closer to the net than an average saved shot. My own method from last season would have Kulemin pegged at 9 goals, which obviously doesn’t indicate any predictive quality.

Now, in Kulemin’s 30-goal season, let’s be clear, he had a shooting percentage of 17.3%. This is absurdly high. To put that in perspective, only 20 players since the 2007-08 season have had at least 173 shots (the amount Kulemin took in 2010-11) and had a shooting percentage of over 17%. The list can be found here.

Shooting highs

Since the lockout, no player with 1400 shots (about 200 a season) has maintained a shooting percentage of 17% or more, The highest is Thomas Vanek’s 15.2%, followed closely by Sidney Crosby’s 15.1%. This leaves two possibilities:

1 – Nikolai Kulemin is the best shooter in the game post-lockout or, more likely,

2 – Nikolai Kulemin got more breaks than he deserved in 2010-11, leading to high expectations for 2011-12.

The second possibility is more likely.

It would also explain Kulemin’s extraordinarily low 6.5% shooting rate from this past campaign. This may seem like a simple explanation, but a lot of things in hockey don’t require a lengthy explanation. They just are.

Here are shooting percentage comparables to Kulemin in 2011:

  2011 Goals 2011 Shots 2011 Sh%
David Jones 27 153 17.65%
Chris Kunitz 23 133 17.29%
Milan Lucic 30 173 17.34%
Drew Stafford 31 179 17.32%
Chris Stewart 28 162 17.28%
Corey Perry 50 290 17.24%
Alex Burrows 26 152 17.11%
Average 31 177 17.31%
Kulemin 30 173 17.34%

And here’s how they did in 2012:

  2012 Goals 2012 Shots 2012 Sh%
David Jones 20 136 14.71%
Chris Kunitz 26 230 11.30%
Milan Lucic 26 149 17.45%
Drew Stafford 20 226 8.85%
Chris Stewart 15 166 9.04%
Corey Perry 37 277 13.36%
Alex Burrows 28 198 14.14%
Average 25 197 12.45%
Kulemin 7 107 6.54%

Admittedly, this is a higher percentage than I expected, but the point is the player’s combined rolled back ever so slightly. 31-goal scorers became 25-goal scorers over the course of a season.

Shooting blanks

Kulemin, of course, took an even further dip. Not only did his shooting percentage come well back to earth, but his shot total suffered. This was a player confidently shooting more than two pucks a game at the net, to having that production cut by nearly a full shot per game. Some nights he did look like a 7-goal scorer.

How did the guys with a low shooting percentage in 2011 fare in 2012, well, luckily, we have numbers:

  2011 Goals 2011 Shots 2011 Sh%
Darren Helm 12 177 6.78%
Brad Richardson 7 103 6.80%
Maxime Talbot 8 117 6.84%
Shawn Thornton 10 151 6.62%
Daniel Winnik 11 167 6.59%
Samuel Pahlsson 7 108 6.48%
Radek Dvorak 7 109 6.42%
Joel Ward 10 157 6.37%
David Clarkson 12 192 6.25%
Jason Chimera 10 162 6.17%
B.J. Crombeen 7 113 6.19%
Average 9 141 6.49%
Kulemin 2012 7 107 6.54%

And the 2012 numbers:

  2012 Goals 2012 Shots 2012 Sh%
Darren Helm 9 124 7.26%
Brad Richardson 5 98 5.10%
Maxime Talbot 19 115 16.52%
Shawn Thornton 5 114 4.39%
Daniel Winnik 8 184 4.35%
Samuel Pahlsson 4 93 4.30%
Radek Dvorak 4 83 4.82%
Joel Ward 6 79 7.59%
David Clarkson 30 228 13.16%
Jason Chimera 20 205 9.76%
B.J. Crombeen 1 50 2.00%
Average 10 125 8.08%
Kulemin 2013 ??? ??? ???

Maybe there’s something to be said about the shooting quality of some of these players. The non-goons did pretty well the next season, but as a whole, players who don’t shoot well historically tended to continue to not shoot well. I don’t think this applies too much to Kulemin, but you do see that there’s a modest turnaround for the group as a whole. You can’t go into a year expecting somebody to shoot 6.5%.

What’s surprising to me is that players who had a higher shooting percentage in 2011 took more shots as a group in 2012, and the effect is reversed for the others. Kulemin appears to be an exception to this rule, but I wonder if teams may give extra offensive minutes to players coming off big years, or if there is something to be said for confidence.

But that’s a story for another day. In the meantime, if you’re new to this blog, you can check out my earlier looks at Nikolai Kulemin from this summer. The first part focuses on his offence and the second part focuses on his defence.


The most worrying thing about Kulemin’s season is his low shot volume from 2011 to 2012. As explained in my piece about Kulemin’s offence, that was partly due to a lower even strength shot rate, and partly due to a huge drop in powerplay time.

I have him pegged between 13 and 19 goals this upcoming season. Not terrifically high, but acceptable for a player who likely play a role as a skilled forward on a third line.

He’ll have to work out hard in the offseason to be able to break 20 goals again.

  • Finally, an objective and fair assessment of Kulemin. Too many people (fans and media alike), think Kulemin is the player he was in 2010-2011. You’ve basically illustrated that both that season (where he put up great offensive numbers) and last season (where his offense drop to new lows) were probably anomolies.

    When I read your conclusion, I couldn’t agree more. He’s a good 2-way third line forward. I suppose his numbers this coming year (assuming he stays with the Leafs, will be dependent on who his other linemates are, and how much Carlyle allows that line to press in the offensive zone.

    Amazed to see the picture of Kulemin smiling. He always appears to be so serious/sullen.

  • 16 goals is about right for an average second line player.

    Given the Leafs depth on the wings, him settling into a hybrid 2nd-3rd line spot isn’t off the table. I think it’s a role he can excel in. He needs more PP time to break 20.

  • Now, in Kulemin’s 30-goal season, let’s be clear, he had a shooting percentage of 17.3%. This is absurdly high. To put that in perspective, only 20 players since the 2007-08 season have had at least 173 shots (the amount Kulemin took in 2010-11) and had a shooting percentage of over 17%. The list can be found here.

    Missing link alert!

  • One thing I remember from early in this past season was that Kulemin missed the net A LOT. A few games in, I think he had 2 shots on net and 15 missed shots, and a lot of them were clear shots.

    He finished the season with 78 missed shots, and 107 on net. That’s 42.2% missed!

    78 missed shots was good for 54th in the league (tied with St. Louis and Hossa).

    Among the top 60 in missed shots:

    * The average “missed shot %” was 28.9%, so his 44.2% was 46% worse than average in that regard.

    * The next worse missed shot %s were 37.6% (Mike Richards, 103 missed, 171 on net) and 36.9% (Patrik Berglund 110 missed, 188 on net).

    * The next fewest shots on net were 149 (Sam Gagner), then 170 (Jaromir Jagr).

    * The next fewest number of goals were 11 (Getzlaf, 186 shots on net, 104 missed shots) and 17 (Wheeler, 8.2% shooting, 207 shots on net, 102 missed shots)

    * Only Getzlaf had a worse shooting percentage (5.9%). Zetterberg had the 3rd worst, 8.2%

    Stats that bad make you wonder if it was some kind of hand/arm injury, or a mental thing, where maybe he was trying to place the puck too much.

  • Hm, well, the year before, he had 67 missed shots and 173 on net, for a missed shot percentage of a relatively-average 27.9%. The average for players this past season with 170-187 shots on net was 26.8% missed, so in 2010-11 he was just a tad high.

    If he had a 27.9% missed shot percentage this year, he’d have had 133 shots on net instead of 107, just 26 extra shots. At 6.5% scoring, he’d have had just 8.67 goals.

    However, he was actually shooting a lot early in the season, even if they were missing — 15 attempts (12 missed) in the first 4 games (seems i was wrong about 2 shots, 15 missed; it was 3 shots on 15 attempts). So that’s about 4 shots attempts per game, which would normally be close to 3 shots on net at a ~25% miss rate. But I guess as he kept missing and not getting any luck with the shots that actually hit the net, he started losing confidence and not taking as many shots, or was told not to shoot, or who knows! Hmmm on the other hand, looking at the event counts for the next few games, he was more on target, but only taking 1-3 shot attempts per game and not missing that many.. so maybe I’m totally off.

    Anyway, hope he recovers this year! :). Surely he can’t get the double-whammy of terrible missed shot % and shooting % two years in a row.