Russia cuts Leafs pick from roster

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

NEW YORK -- Evgeni Malkin is predicting a bright NHL future for Maple Leafs prospect Nikolai Kulemin, even if the Russian national team doesn't feel it has room for the young forward.

Less than 24 hours after suiting up for Russia in a 4-1 victory over Team Canada in an exhibition game in Quebec City, Kulemin, 21, was trimmed from the team's roster yesterday morning as management prepares for the world hockey championship.

"He's a good player. Very strong, very smart," Malkin said of the 6-foot-1, 183-pound Kulemin. "His shot is very good, very strong.

"He is going to be a good NHL player."

Malkin and Kulemin were linemates during the 2005-06 season with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Russian elite league.

WANTS TO LEAVE

There are suspicions that part of the decision to drop Kulemin is political.

He already has stated his intentions to leave Metallurg Magnitogorsk, where he scored 21 goals in 57 games, in order to join the Leafs for the 2008-09 season.

Earlier this year, Magnitogorsk general manager Gennadi Velechkin told Russian Sport Magazine that his team would keep the door open in case Kulemin wanted to return, but did not suggest there would be any problems in allowing the youngster to head to the NHL, which is his intention.

That is good news for the Leafs, since the lack of a ratified NHL-Russian Super League transfer agreement has caused some Russian clubs to interfere with the plans of their players who wish to play in North America.

Kulemin was taken 44th overall in the 2006 entry draft by the Leafs, who signed him to a three-year, $4.4 million U.S. deal last May.


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