Last season, then 18 year old defensemen Dmitry Kulikov was the most pleasant of surprises for the Florida Panthers. He was a Russian that played with the grit and toughness you expect in a North American player. He impressed so much he made the team after his first ever professional training camp. After some early growing pains and an injury that cost him 14 games, many thought the Panthers made a mistake in keeping him at the NHL level. He responded with the most solid of rookie seasons, finishing with 16 pts (3g, 13 a, -5 rating) and the thought that he could be a fixture on the blueline for years to come.
Kulikov is now in his second season and 20 years old. So far, his sophomore campaign probably what the Cats and Head Coach Pete DeBoer expected. He didn’t record a point until 11/10 against Toronto and his defense has been shaky most times. He’s been caught too deep in the offensive zone, caught pinching and not being able to get himself back into position. There has been weak, lazy cross ice passes that begged to be stolen and leave his netminder exposed. There’s been failure to clear the puck out of his zone that have led to trouble (see the goalie interference call that wasn’t against Toronto). Certainly not what he showed he could do at the end of his rookie season.
Lately, Kulikov has shown signs of what was expected. He’s recorded his first two points (2a) in the past three games and has looked more sure of his defensive responsibilites. His passes out of the zone have been crisp, smart and effective. So maybe he’s gotten his legs under him for the remainder of the season. Time will tell. I’m nowhere near ready to give up on this guy. I look forward to the Kulikov/Erik Gudbranson pairing in the VERY near future. He’ll be a big piece of the resurgence of this club. Let’s just hope we see the Dmitry we saw the second half of last season.
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