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Kulemin quietly improving

It’s really difficult not to like Luke Schenn, even though his NHL career has barely started.

It’s really difficult not to like Luke Schenn, even though his NHL career has barely started. In my opinion, it’s difficult not to like Nikolai Kulemin, either, though I’m sure there are a lot of skeptics out there.

The book on Kulemin was that of a high scorer who had a Russian league championship under his belt and used to play on a line with Pittsburgh superstar Evgeni Malkin.

And while all this is true, it’s not necessarily what he would excel at in the NHL.

In fact, it’s Kulemin’s two-way game and defensive consciousness that will make him a valuable member of the Maple Leafs as the years go by.

His 17 points aren’t shabby for a rookie, but if there’s anything I’d like to see him do more over here, it’s the fierce bodychecking regiment he dished out while playing for Mettalurg Magnitogorsk.

True, the youngster was demoted to the Marlies at one point this year, but let’s remember the learning curve here; he’s still a first-year NHLer.

Expect a better season next year from Kulemin, who is still getting acclimated to North American culture and a schedule that will see him play at least 25 games more than he was used to in Russia.

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s game against the Panthers brought another occasion to fete Schenn.

In drilling Radek Dvorak into the boards, Schenn had his second pasting of the week, following up his destruction of the Pens’ Malkin on Saturday.

The youngster punctuated that hit by feeding Tyler Kennedy haymakers when the Pittsburgh forward attempted (and failed) to avenge Malkin’s honour.

There was no retribution from the Panthers, but Schenn continued to show his NHL growth, taking more chances on offence and successfully defending a 2-on-1.

But it was during an official TV timeout when Schenn made a bigger impression.

The cameras turned to a Canadian soldier in the crowd, who was attending the game with his girlfriend courtesy Schenn, who has set up Luke’s Troops as a way to support Canada’s military.

Now many hockey players do great work for charity and setting up people with game tickets is a nice way to brighten someone’s day, but let’s remember that Schenn is still a teenager.

The fact he is already committed to a cause and is seeing it through speaks volumes of the young defenceman’s character, and it’s not difficult to see his leadership skills developing.

While we’re on the topic of Schenns, Luke’s younger brother Brayden is making noise as a potential first-round draft pick of the Buds this summer, based on the quality of his play and lack thereof on the part of the Leafs.

Naturally, draft position will determine a lot, but as a quick preview, Brayden is seen as a two-way centre who plays a strong, physical game.

At the high end of the scale, that means he’ll be similar to young Flyers captain Mike Richards. Lessen expectations and he’s Rob Niedermayer.

While a top-notch goal-scorer is needed more at this point, I’m sure Leafs fans would have no problem with another Schenn in the house.

 
 
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