It’s almost been two months since we last saw Dmitry Kulikov take the ice for the Florida Panthers, and boy do we miss him. Dmitry Kulikov was injured in a game versus the Winnipeg Jets on January 21st and only a couple days later, Kulikov had to undergo knee surgery. The young Russian defenseman has not been seen since, and the Florida Panthers organization has been quiet on how his recovery has progressed. Recently Kulikov was back on the ice, and from what I saw, he looked almost ready to go.
Before going down with the knee injury, it was safe to say that Kulikov was on pace for a career season. He was working towards 43 points which would have surpassed his career high of 26 points set last year in 72 games. In the 46 games in which he played so far this season, Kulikov had 24 points. Kulikov was also one of the main components to the power play which for the first 4 months of the season was ranked in the top 5 in the entire NHL. Since his absence, that ranking has dropped out of the top 10. The question is, when will Kulikov be back?
Last Wednesday before the Panthers took the ice for their tune up practice before they left for Philadelphia, I arrived a little early to see Scottie Upshall and Dmitry Kulikov doing some conditioning drills. Upshall was seen doing some intense drills and looked exhausted after each set, but the fact that he was going so hard is definitely a great sign. Kulikov was on the far end of the ice doing some lateral skating drills across the neutral zone. He would skate hard to the blue line and quickly skate back to the original blue line where he started, all the way across the neutral zone. He did about 5 reps of those from what I saw, and was then goofing around with Florida Panthers rookie Erik Gudbranson. Then around 10:45, 15 minutes before the rest of the Panthers took the ice for regular practice. I sneaked over to Kulikov where he was signing some autographs and taking some pictures. I then asked him after a quick picture, “When are you coming back?” His response,
Sooner, rather then later.
Now, that could mean many things, but I hope it means as soon as the doctors clear me too play. With only 15 games remaining, having Kulikov back as soon as possible is desperately what we need. Kulikov was a top 15 defenseman in points before he got injured but the Panthers have been able to barely keep a hold in that first place position in the Southeast division since he left. At the age of 21, Kulikov is going to be a RFA at the end of this season, and one can only hope that Dale Tallon sees this young future superstar as a key component to the Panthers future. We have seen the ability to score dwindle week after week, but when Kulikov was around goals were not so hard to come by. Losing someone who played roughly over 22 minutes a game is not easy, but when he returns from his injury I hope he is ready to go and the injury won’t hamper him in the future.
With only 15 games remaining, the returns of Kris Versteeg and Dmitry Kulikov will play a huge part in whether or not the Panthers make it to the postseason. After only scoring 1 goal on the recent 2 game road trip, if they want to have a more successful home stand then they did last time (1 point out of a possible 8), they’re going to have to put the puck in the net more than once a game. Points are hard to come by in March, thus we need to remain positive and get healthy. Usually the healthier teams this time of year are the teams making the playoff pushes, with still 4 weeks remaining on the season, Versteeg and Kulikov have a little time left to recover, but time is running out.
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