Kulemin wants NHL over KHL next year, says agent

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The longest-serving Maple Leaf might not be back in Toronto next year, but he’s planning to stay in North America.

That’s what Gary Greenstin — the agent representing Leafs winger Nikolai Kulemin, told the Toronto Sun this week — saying Kulemin “remains set” on playing in the NHL next season.

Here’s more, from the Sun:

[Greenstin] had informal chats with both director of hockey operations Dave Poulin and assistant GM Claude Loiselle. Kulemin, the longest-serving Leaf, made $2.8 million US this year, but might not be back at that price, given how everything has gone with the Leafs of late.

“I’d like to say he’ll be with the Maple Leafs and winning the Stanley Cup,” Greenstin said with a smile. “But right now, he’s under contract until June 30 and we’ll go from there.”

Kulemin, 27, is in his sixth season with Toronto. He had a career year in 2010-11, scoring 30 goals and 57 points while appearing in all 82 games, and was rewarded with a two-year, $5.6 million extension in July 2012.

This year, he has nine goals and 20 points in 64 games, averaging over 16 minutes a night. There’s a good chance teams would be interested in him come free agency but, with that said, it’s hard to ignore Kulemin’s ties to Russia and the KHL.

A product of Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Kulemin is a decorated international participant, representing Russia at the World Under-18s, the World Juniors, the Word Hockey Championships and two Winter Olympics (all told he’s won a bronze, two silvers and two goals combined.) Greenstin told the Sun that Kulemin would welcome another chance to suit up for Russia at the ’14 Worlds, to be held in May in Belarus.

It’s alto worth noting Kulemin still has strong ties to Metallurg, having spent considerable time there during the lockout. Kulemin notched 38 points in 34 games during the 2012-13 campaign and finished third on the team in scoring.

As for his future in Toronto…here’s what Darren Dreger told TSN Radio yesterday:

Swedes have shown well in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Filip Forsberg is having quite the spring for the Nashville Predators, setting franchise records with his eight goals and 15 points. He’s tied the team mark with at least a point in seven straight games.

Pontus Aberg scored the game-winning goal to put Nashville up 3-2 in the Western Conference finals, while defenseman Mattias Ekholm, has been smothering top lines all postseason. Viktor Arvidsson has 10 points, and his plus-13 rating ties him with Anaheim’s Rickard Rakell for second-best this postseason — behind Forsberg (plus-17).

All five of these players are Swedish. It has been a sweet postseason for players from a nation whose players once were derided for being soft and not able to handle the rigors of the NHL. In all, general manager David Poile has six Swedes on Nashville’s playoff roster as the Predators reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in their 19-year history.

“I must admit we haven’t gone out of the way necessarily to get them to this point, but I’m thinking maybe we should,” Poile said. “They’ve certainly been key parts of our team.”

The Predators have lots of company in mining Sweden for talent. Defenseman Erik Karlsson is one of four Swedes playing for Ottawa in the Eastern Conference finals, while former Nashville forward Patric Hornqvist is one of three for the Pittsburgh Penguins. A check of NHL rosters shows 79 skaters and 10 goalies from Sweden played during the regular season, with 40 appearing in at least one playoff game.

Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said Sweden has become a hockey power for a small country. Teammates with Borje Salming and Inge Hammarstrom in 1976 in Toronto, Carlyle saw the abuse directed at both.

“That was a little bit more barbaric or archaic times of hockey,” Carlyle said. “But that’s how much the game has grown, and it has become a world-class game. And these players are world-class players and now you’re looking at their contribution and the numbers that are in the NHL, it’s all a tribute back to those two players.”

Because of the time zone difference, Rakell said, it was pretty tough to watch NHL games when he was growing up. The best chance to watch hockey stars came during national team tournaments in Europe. Rakell, now 24, started watching more of the NHL when he got to junior hockey, though he also had a favorite.

“I was growing up in the same hometown as Mats Sundin, and he was pretty big in that small town I grew up in,” Rakell said of the 13-year NHL center. “So he was one of the guys I was looking up to and watching highlight videos.”

Pittsburgh forward Carl Hagelin said Thursday that it’s a very good time to be a Swedish hockey player, noting Sweden beat Canada 2-1 in a shootout Monday for the world hockey championship . Each NHL team seems have two or three Swedes on the roster.

Yes, they do keep track of their countrymen during the regular season. In the playoffs, all friendships are put aside.

“In the playoffs, you just play to win games,” Hagelin said.

Hagelin estimated a third of Sweden watched the world championship. Thanks to the internet and social media, it’s much easier to watch the NHL these days.

“There’s a lot of people watching us back home,” Aberg said.

Penguins forward Oskar Sundqvist agreed: “I know a lot of my friends stay up basically the whole night and watch games. I think it’s growing every day in Sweden, and it’s just getting bigger and bigger.”

Swedish hockey has become so strong that Carlyle said NHL scouts are visiting the country regularly. Making the jump to playing in North America has its challenges for young players. Pittsburgh drafted Sundqvist in 2012 when he was 19, and he stayed in Sweden for two full seasons before making his NHL debut last season. He spent much of this season at the Penguins’ AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and now is 23.

“It’s not like you’ve got a one-hour car drive and get home with mom and dad,” Sundqvist said. “I have a lot to thank Pittsburgh for letting me stay in Sweden one more year and prepare to get ready for everything that is over here.”

A Swedish teammate means being able to relax and talk with each other in the same language. It’s also a little easier to get tips on what to do and not do to ensure a long stay in the NHL.

“Everybody wants to play here and everybody wants to make the best out of it if you ever get the chance,” Rakell said.

Blue Jackets sign USHL’s goalie of the year

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The Columbus Blue Jackets have signed goalie Matiss Kivlenieks to a three-year entry-level contract.

Kivlenieks was an undrafted free agent that a number of NHL teams were hoping to sign after his sterling season in the USHL.

The 20-year-old was originally planning to attend Minnesota State University next season, but he’s a professional now so that plan has changed.

From the press release:

Kivlenieks, 20, went 36-7-4-2 with a 1.85 goals-against average, .932 save percentage and five shutouts in 49 games to help the Sioux City Musketeers capture the 2016-17 Anderson Cup as the league’s regular season champions. He was named the USHL’s Player of the Year and Goaltender of the Year and to the First All-Star Team after leading the league in wins, GAA, SV%, shutouts (tied) and finishing second in minutes played (2,991).  

Next season, Sergei Bobrovsky will be the starter for Columbus, likely backed up by either Anton Forsberg or Joonas Korpisalo.

But Kivlenieks may get the chance to be other goalie in the AHL, behind either Forsberg or Korpisalo.

The Blue Jackets also have 23-year-old goalie Oscar Dansk in the system; however, he struggled last year (.903) in the Swedish league.

Related: Jackets loan Dansk to Swedish club

Your Pittsburgh-Ottawa Game 7 officials are…

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The men in stripes for tonight’s huge Eastern Conference final clash at PPG Paints have been unveiled.

Per Scouting The Refs, referees Wes McCauley (No. 4) and Dan O’Halloran (No. 13) will work the game, along with linesmen Brad Kovachik (No. 71) and Brian Murphy (No. 93).

It’s the first time McCauley and O’Halloran have worked together this postseason.

McCauley last worked this series in Game 5, Pittsburgh’s 7-0 blowout win over the Sens at home. O’Halloran worked the game prior.

McCauley is perhaps best remembered this postseason for his work in Game 3 of the Western Conference final, a 2-1 Nashville win in which three goals were called back — one Ducks marker because the net had been dislodged prior to the puck crossing the line, and two Preds tallies in the third period due to goalie interference.

O’Halloran was also involved in a controversial goal call (to be fair, almost every referee has this postseason). He and Kevin Pollack opted not to overturn Corey Perry‘s goal on Cam Talbot in Game 4 of the Ducks-Oilers series. You can read more on that, and see video, here.

Report: Finnish goalie Sateri eyeing NHL after strong showing at Worlds

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Harri Sateri, the former Sharks prospect that’s spent the last three years in the KHL, is reportedly looking to come back to North America.

Per Finnish news outlet Iltalheti, Sateri shot down an extension with his current club, Vityaz Podolsk, to try and land an NHL gig.

The 27-year-old’s decision comes after a pretty solid showing with his native Finland at the World Hockey Championship. There, Sateri split time with Columbus’ Joonas Korpisalo, finishing with a .915 save percentage and 2.26 GAA. He posted a 26-save shutout in a surprising quarterfinal win over the U.S.

Sateri’s been good in Russia as well. Last season, he finished with a .929 save percentage and 2.50 GAA in 42 games.

It’ll be interesting to see if he can find a gig this summer. Sateri was originally San Jose’s fourth-round pick (106th overall) at the 2008 draft, but spent all four of his years in North America with the club’s AHL affiliate.

In his final season, he lost out on the gig as Antti Niemi’s backup to Alex Stalock in the preseason.