During the dog days of summer, NHL news can be scarce but hockey fans are an insatiable breed so to fill up some of those empty summer spaces, we will be doing individual profiles of the Florida Panthers players. In these profiles, we will dish on the players’ previous season, what we can expect next year and also take a look back at their careers. We hope these little pieces help all you Panther fans retain your sanity while we hold on in anticipation of the new season this fall.
When looking at Dmitry Kulikov and his NHL career, it is important to remember that he is only 22 years old (he will turn 23 in October). Sometimes it seems like he has been with the Panthers forever (he is the second longest tenured Panther behind Shawn Matthias) which makes it frustrating that he has yet to make the jump to the next level that so many have been projecting.
Kulikov is in a similar situation as Erik Gudbranson; both are first round draft picks and both are young defensemen with huge potential who have to this point been unable to deliver on their immense promise. As with Gudbranson, it is important to be patient with Kulikov, defensemen take time to develop in the NHL and he is still extremely young. Think about this, Kulikov is actually younger than Colby Robak, a Panthers defensive prospect whom many in the organization have high hopes for. Kulikov is six months younger than Robak and he, Kulikov, has four years of NHL experience to Robak’s 19 career NHL games. It is reasonable to expect that Robak still has a lot of room to grow and the expectations should be no different for Kulikov.
A lot of the worry and frustration regarding Kulikov can be traced to the fact that his 2012-13 season was rather pedestrian and instead of showing the steady improvement many were expecting, it could be argued that last year was a step back for the Russian defender. Injuries have played a big role in limiting his development. He played 58 games during the 11-12 season and 34 games during the lockout shortened 12-13 season.
Although he did not make the quantum leap that many would have liked to see, when he was on the ice Kulikov was a steady defender who provided decent offensive contributions. He finished the year at -5 playing for a Panthers team that had a league worst -59 goal differential. (Interesting side not, Kulikov has finished all four of his NHL seasons with a -5 rating which is pretty astounding considering how flimsy of a stat +/- is. This does not really tell us anything about Kulikov as a player, but still, its kind of weird).
In his 34 games Kulikov scored three goals and seven assists tying him with Filip Kuba as the teams second most productive defenseman behind Brian Campbell. He was 5th on the team (30 or more games played) with a 2.5 corsi relative and his Goals Verses Threshold (GVT) was 2.1. You can read more about GVT from its creator Tom Awad but in brief, GVT tells us how many goals a player is worth above or below what a replacement player would produce. To put Kulikov’s number into perspective, P.K. Subban had the highest 2012-13 GVT for a defenseman at 12.5. Brian Campbell was the highest Panther defenseman with a GVT of 4.9 while Gudbranson was the lowest rated Panther d-man with a GVT of -1.9.
In conclusion, Dmitry Kulikov had a pretty solid 2012-13 season but was frustrating at times because of his inability to stay on the ice and his inability to make the jump, especially offensively, that Panthers fans are so desperate to see.
Due to the fact that it is so hard to quantify defensive ability, most of the arguments for Kulikov’s slow developments are centered around his offensive stats. With all the advances in statistics, the best way to evaluate a player’s defensive chops remains the eye test. In that regard, Kulikov is coming along quite nicely. While he has his lapses form time to time, he is growing into a reliable defensive presence for the Panthers. However, fair or not, Kulikov will continue to be judged based on his offensive production.
Drafted 14th overall by the Panthers in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Kulikov carried the promise as an d-man with offensive playmaking ability oozing from his ears. Four years into his NHL career, he has shown flashes but he has yet to top even 30 points in one season. If he can stay healthy, 2013-14 looks like it has the potential to be Kulikov’s breakout season. He is going to be a lock in the Panthers top four defensemen every night and he should receive ample time on the power play.
With the opportunity staring him in the face, it will be up to Kulikov to step up and stake his claim in the upper echelon of NHL defenders. He will be a restricted free agent at the end of this season and if he has a successful year he will in line for a juicy long term contract.