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Kulemin, Pouliot among top targets for Penguins in NHL free agency

| Monday, June 30, 2014, 8:42 p.m.

The Penguins currently have seven forwards signed to NHL contracts.

That number could change dramatically Tuesday.

NHL teams are free to sign unrestricted free agents at noon, and the Penguins intend on being busy. Among their primary targets is right wing Nikolai Kulemin.

General manager Jim Rutherford — along with numerous people on his staff — possesses a high opinion of the 27-year-old forward.

Kumelin's agent, Gary Greenstin, confirmed Monday that he held numerous conversations with Rutherford.

“Obviously the Penguins are very interested,” Greenstin said. “But other teams like him, too.”

Kulemin and star center Evgeni Malkin are close friends and have played together in their native Russia in KHL action.

They also have played internationally for Russia, frequently finding success playing on the same line.

“They always play well together,” Greenstin said. “Pittsburgh knows this.”

Greenstin, however, did not say Kulemin's signing with the Penguins is a done deal.

Kulemin has played his entire six-year NHL career with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He isn't expected to return to Toronto following a disappointing nine-goal season.

A former 30-goal scorer, Kulemin earned $2.8 million during each of his final two seasons in Toronto.

Another player on the Penguins' radar is free agent forward Benoit Pouliot.

The 27-year-old, who has played for five teams during the past five seasons, scored 15 goals last season for the Rangers. He was effective in the postseason, adding five goals, including one in Game 1 of the second round against the Penguins.

Pouliot is on the Penguins' wish list, though a source close to the situation said the Penguins are unsure if they will be able to match the free agent's financial demands.

The Rangers reportedly aren't expected to bring Pouliot back after paying him $1.3 million last season.

Penguins center Brandon Sutter, wingers Nick Spaling, Jayson Megna and Bobby Farnham, and defensemen Simon Despres and Philip Samuelsson are restricted free agents. Rutherford confirmed those players have been presented qualifying offers by the Penguins.

The Penguins have the right to match any offer that one of those players could potentially receive. They also can receive compensation, should one of those players sign elsewhere. Restricted free agents, however, rarely sign with other teams.

Of the Penguins restricted free agents, Sutter figures to receive the highest raise. He earned $2.7 million last season and, following a playoff run that saw him score five goals in 13 games, could be in position to command a salary in the neighborhood of $4 million per season.

The focus Tuesday figures to be on unrestricted free agents around the league. And Kulemin is the Penguins' desired player. Teams may begin signing players at noon.

“Pittsburgh has a great organization,” Greenstin said. “It's a great city. We'll see what's going to happen (Tuesday).”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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