The big Russian forward was one of two notable overseas signings by general manager Ray Shero last summer. After spending five years playing with Omsk Avangard, in the KHL, Kalinin made a solid transition to the North American playing style in his first NHL season. The 25-year old tallied eight goals and 15 points in 78 games, splitting time between center and left wing in a fluctuating 1-9th role. Kalinin’s offensive numbers picked up as the year progressed, and only tell part of the story behind his inaugural year in New Jersey. While he wasn’t one of Coach Hynes’ go-to players, he made the most out of his nightly ice time average of 13:19. Kalinin was a physical presence up front and showed flashes of possessing strong defensive compliance that’s significantly more furbished than his offensive skills. While his scoring totals certainly reflect the bigger picture of New Jersey’s inept forward depth, Kalinin was among the team’s top forwards in categories like hits, blocked shots, and takeaways. It took Kalinin 13 games to score his first of the season, after which he netted five more goals over his next 21 contests. His production plummeted going into January as Kalinin only scored twice in his last 48 games. His distribution of goal-scoring was evidently streaky, but largely reflected the season of one’s first NHL season.
Kalinin was the Devil’s tallest skater up front (6’3’’) and utilized his size to the fullest extent. He led Devils forwards in hits (146) and hits per game (1.9), had the fourth-most takeaways (25), and sixth-most blocked shots (30), while being relegated to mostly even strength and occasional power play time. While his eight goals in 78 contests isn’t impressive, they came off 70 shots, which equates to an 11.4% scoring rate. Outside of Henrique and Zajac, Kalinin’s shooting percentage was the best amongst Devils centers, of whom he played considerably less, and was used in far less situations (outside of even strength play) than. Kalinin has shown a lot of promise of becoming an strong defensive hard-hitting forward that can be regularly used in a 7th-12th role, and possibly warrant more special teams playing time. Considering how he was the first Russian-born player the Devils organization acquired since Ilya Kovalchuk’s unprecedented retirement, the upside he’s shown has been refreshing to say the least.
Granted this was Kalinin’s first year in the NHL after coming overseas, scoring eight goals in 78 games (played sixth-most on team) links him to the Devil’s stifling subpar scoring depth. For a team where more than half their game outcomes were decided by one goal this year, a player like Kalinin being able to chip in a few extra goals could have made a profound difference in the Devil’s fortunes. Looking closer at the duration of No. 51’s season, he had two goalless stretches spanning between 10-19 games and two more that exceeded 20 where his goal totals were sprinkled in between. It’s easy to give the benefit of the doubt to a first-year NHL player, but that type of inconsistency is can’t be dismissed when you realize how it impacted the team he played for. In addition to the inconsistencies surrounding his goal totals, Kalinin was among the Devil’s worst centers in the face-off dot. Although the 322 face-offs he took were the fewest among the Devil’s regular centers (Zajac, Henrique, Josefson, Gionta, Kalinin), he posted a team-low 41.6%. The Devils were one of the worst face-off teams this year, and Kalinin was one of their three main centers who posted a face-off success rate under 45%.
When I look at what Sergey Kalinin did this season, I see flashes of a bigger, more physical John Madden. His offense clearly needs to (and certainly can) improve, which I’m sure will come as Kalinin continues his adaptation to the North American style of play. Having said that, his efficiency in statistical categories that aren’t reflected on the score sheet like hits and blocked shots should strongly help his case (and I think it will) in bring him back next season. Kalinin seemed to fit well in Coach Hynes’ playing system, and certainly fits the Devil’s “fast, attacking, supportive” model they’re incorporating on the team’s roster. With the ball largely in Shero’s court in terms of negotiations, he certainly wouldn’t be obligated to offer Kalinin a long term deal that warrants a hefty pay raise from his 2015-2016 contract. If Kalinin’s play this past season is a sign of better things to come, he could be expected to take on a larger role on next year’s roster. Especially if Kalinin becomes part of a vastly improved Devils offense going into next season, he could turn out to be a true diamond in the rough pickup that pays tremendous dividends.