Kulikov was a top prospect for the Panthers. The Cats selected him in the first round (14th overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. With a guy drafted that high, big expectations usually come along with it. Kulikov hasn't made a big splash with the Panthers yet but I think he's due to have a big season this year.
Last season Kulikov only put up 28 points but was sidelined with a knee injury for all of February and most of March. Before his injury Kulikov was skating and scoring at a pretty good pace. At the end of the season his numbers looked about the same as the year before but he only skated in 58 games.
Kulikov's production has steadily increased each year that he's been in the NHL and if the Cats are lucky he will continue to mature as a player.
The season before the Cats drafted Kulikov he notched 62 points in 57 games with the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL. These numbers were from a junior league but they give a good indication of what the young defenseman is capable of.
In his two NHL seasons Kulikov has shown consistent improvement and I expect that trend to continue. In his first season in the NHL Kulikov put up 16 points in 68 games, his second season he notched 26 points in 72 games and last year Kulikov put up 24 points in 58 games.
Depending on how Coach Kevin Dineen decides to pair the defensemen next season, Kulikov could definitely end up skating on the first line alongside Brian Campbell. Kulikov was started on the first line defense for the first part of last season until he went down with an injury and then Jason Garrison made the most of his opportunity and took the first line role.
Kulikov plays a different kind of defense than Garrison. He's not as likely to rip shots from the blue line but like Campbell, he can control the puck and quarterback the play, which makes him a valuable scoring asset. Kulikov's style of play is also similar to that of Filip Kuba who the Cats picked up as a free-agent this offseason so I wouldn't be surprised if Dineen paired the two of them together on the second line defense either.
No matter what line Kulikov ends up on this year, I think he will have a good season and turn a lot of heads in the NHL. We haven't seen this guy's full potential yet. He has demonstrated flashes of brilliance but has lacked the consistency needed to be a great NHL player. Hopefully for the Panthers this will change very soon.
More from this contributor:
All statistics from Yahoo! Sports
Free-agent, injury, and depth chart details from FloridaPanthers.com
Kristian Eberwein is a freelance journalist from Orlando, Florida. He was an English major at the University of Central Florida and has been a part of the Florida hockey community for the past twenty years. Follow him on Twitter @KrisEberwein
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