Dmitry Kulikov is showing flashes of dominant two-way play


The longest tenured Florida Panther player on the team’s current roster is 24-year-old defenseman Dmitry Kulikov. The Russian blue liner turns 25 in just nine days, and is currently at the prime age for an NHL defensemen.

This makes perfect sense, as Kulikov has been playing some of the best hockey of his career lately, and is flashing some of the impressive offensive ability that got him selected 14th overall back at the 2009 NHL Draft. Though he only has one point through his first five games, Kulikov has been engaged offensively and solid defensively, leading to some of the strongest possession numbers on the team.

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Kulikov does this while playing alongside Alex Petrovic, who had a USAT% of 46.1% last season, and a relative USAT% of -4.2%. It’s not as though Kulikov is being carried by a strong possession teammate; if anything, the talented defenseman is carrying his partner, making his possession dominance even more impressive.

When contrasted with Aaron Ekblad, who is playing alongside possession juggernaut Brian Campbell, Kulikov’s early season success looks even more impressive. Sure, Ekblad has great possession numbers, but Kulikov has similar numbers while playing with a less talented defensive partner.

How is the young Russian getting it done, however? The possession metrics can tell us who is doing good, but until we start tracking zone entries and exits (along with other micro-stats), these metrics don’t do a good job of telling us why certain players are doing well. For that, we need to dig a little deeper, and use some video.

Last season, Dmitry Kulikov played a steady, responsible game while playing alongside veteran Willie Mitchell. We can see this in his shot attempts rate, as Kulikov only attempted 6.95 shots per 60 minutes of 5 on 5 ice time.

This season, that number has jumped up to 8.94 shot attempts per 60 minutes, and it’s because Kulikov is becoming much more involved in the team’s offense. The passive, steady Kulikov we saw in 2014-2015 has added an offensive aspect to his game in 2015-2016, and the team could be reaping the benefits soon. The following plays serve as perfect examples to how the 24-year-old has become more aggressively offensively, without sacrificing on the defensive side of the puck.

First up is Kulikov’s first point of the season. In this play, he sees a potential odd-man rush developing, and jumps into the play. With a full head of steam, he is able to blow right by the defenseman and get the puck to the front of the net. Connor Brickley would jam home the rebound to put the Cats up 2-1, and the team would go on to beat the Carolina Hurricanes by a score of 4-1.

In this next play, Kulikov almost picks up his first goal of the season by joining the rush late, and giving himself tons of open space and time to make an offensive play. Though the Russian may miss the net with this shot attempt, the high quality scoring chances that Kulikov is creating for himself will result in goals eventually.

Next up is this offensive chance created by Kulikov in the team’s matchup against the Dallas Stars. He jumps up into the play as soon as he sees the puck is loose, and then drives to the net in order to create a scoring chance. If this was last season, Kulikov would have dumped the puck back around the boards. This season, however, he makes a play with the puck, and almost creates a goal for his team.

The final example we have of Kulikov’s aggressive offensive play is also the best example of his dominant two-way play. In the long sequence of play, Kulikov makes a defensive zone stop, then jumps up into the rush. Though he bobbles the puck at his offensive blue line, his ferocious back-check leads to a turnover in the neutral zone. From there, he is able to kick start the team’s breakout, and get the puck moving in the right direction.

Dmitry Kulikov is looking like a dominant two-way player, and a consistent offensive threat this year. Seeing as he’s a player in his prime, this type of play should be expected from the Russian defenseman, who could really breakout offensively as the season progresses.

Kulikov has had the potential to provide this kind of play for a long time. Though we’re only five games into the season, it’s great to see him living up to that potential, and hopefully he can maintain this level of play for the rest of the year.

(statistics taken from and, and are at 5 on 5 unless mentioned otherwise).

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