There are different ways to measuring how “good” a defensemen is. One can view it from the standpoint that they are smooth skaters that know how to quarterback the ice when they’re on, for example Brian Campbell. Then there is the aspect where the defenseman is nitty gritty and just plays all around good defense with added toughness.
When the Florida Panthers selected Dmitry Kulikov 14th overall back in 2009 they certainly weren’t slow to bring him into the NHL. Although many may question whether or not that was a good idea, considering he only had 42 points in his first two seasons, now people see that he is only 21 years old and all they can say is wow.
So far this season, Kulikov has accumulated 17 assists as well as 3 goals in 30 games. He totaled last season 26 points in 72 games. He is on pace to shatter his career highs and finish with around 60-61 points which would certainly put him up there with the elites in the NHL.
Yes it’s nice to see how Kulikov has grown into an offensive threat but what he still needs to learn to do is be a little more physical when on the defensive side of the ice. He tends to make those rookie mistakes at times which just make you scratch your head and say “What was he thinking?”. Specifically during the last game against the New Jersey Devils there was a moment in the game where things were getting fiesty in front of the Panthers net. Almost all the players that were on the ice at the time were shoving and pushing each other when Scott Clemmensen covered the puck, the only player not in the scirmish was Kulikov. Coach Kevin Dineen was frantically waving and yelling at Kulikov to get into the action and stick up for his teammates, but he saw that the shoving and pushing was being separated so he simply skated back to the bench.
Just a few moments later, Ilya Kovalchuck got into an altercation with Mike Weaver resulting in a full on shoving and pushing once again. Zach Parise seemed to want to get into a fight with Dmitry Kulikov, but Kulikov simply hugged Parise and it seemed as if he wanted no part in a fight or altercation. I understand that Kulikov is young, but he has to stand up for his teammates and show a little more snarl. He certainly can throw the body around and make some quality open ice checks (just ask Mike Green) but I would like to see more physicality from Kulikov and less rookie mistakes on the defensive side of the ice.
Overall Kulikov has certainly exceeded or at least met his expectations so far for this season. He helps Campbell quarterback the powerplay, he is averaging just over 22 minutes of ice time, but once again if he wants to be considered amongst the elite in the NHL he has to get more physical and make the opposing team fear him. At the young age of 21, his rookie contract will expire after this season, one can only hope that Dale Tallon will resign him and we’ll continue to see Kulikov grow into an All Star defensemen. Kulikov has many more years in the NHL and hopefully he is part of Dale Tallons plan to one day hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.
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