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The most mysterious Russian of the NHL playoffs. What is the phenomenon of the invisible Kulikov?

Date: June 25, 2024 Time: 11:12:04

In 2009, Florida selected Dmitry Kulikov in the middle of the first round, and since 1998, when Vitaly Vishnevsky was selected fifth overall, no defenseman from Russia has been selected higher. The “Russian factor”, which so scared the NHL clubs, did not interfere: Kulikov spent the season in the Quebec League, where he immediately became champion, scoring one point per game and collecting three individual awards. “After training, Kulikov has to be kicked off the ice. If you give him 8 thousand pucks, he will shoot and shoot,” said one of the coaches of the youth defense club.

In his first season, Kulikov made the first team of Florida, which then had a very strong defense, and now he returns to play for the Panthers. It’s true that between the defenseman’s move to Buffalo in 2016 and his return to almost his hometown club last offseason, Kulikov managed to play for seven NHL clubs. From a potential defensive leader and main defender for most, the defender became a third-pair player; However, it was in this role that Dmitry was able to make it through the first round with his team for the first time. It is surprising that this happened only now, but this is another reason to talk about a rare Russian player who is not talked about in his homeland.

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“I started as a forward. The thing is that in Yaroslavl there were many forwards, but few defenders. And I myself, one might say, asked to be transferred to the defense. I was a central forward in attack, that’s why I always worked in defense. The transition did not require any special changes on my part,” Kulikov said in an interview in 2011. Despite the fact that Kulikov formally played in the Quebec league and had a contract with Lokomotiv, the defender was not noticed in Yaroslavl; There were even rumors that coach Kulikov was fired for this, but the player himself denied everything.

Dmitri Kulikov in 2014

Photo: AP/TASS

Kulikov had excellent teachers in the NHL. “There were many partners. I’ll tell you about the first: Brian McCabe. He helped me when I was still 18 or 19 years old and didn’t know anything. He told me who to watch, who could take his head off. You, a young player, have more confidence because you know that an experienced player does not fail. McCabe is a solid defender; I don’t know, consciously or not, but he tried to improve my game,” Kulikov said in an interview with Sports.ru in 2022.

In his first season in the NHL, Kulikov scored 16 points in 68 games, and this was a good result: Victor Hedman, who debuted for Tampa at the same time, scored 20 points in 74 games with more playing time. However, after a solid debut there was no jump, the Panthers considered trading Kulikov for some time. “Washington” was also mentioned as an option: Dmitry Orlov, who at that time did not yet have a stable place in the team, could go in the opposite direction.

Russian fans did not have much opportunity to follow Kulikov: he was not released at the 2012 World Cup due to injury, and a year later he could not finish the season in Florida due to injury. The coaches did not take Dmitry to the Olympic Games in Sochi, and this despite the fact that at the last moment the Bilyaletdinov headquarters decided to fill the team with NHL hockey players as much as possible. Perhaps the “-26” utility indicator in “Florida”, which at that time was undergoing perpetual restructuring, had its effect.

In 2016, the period of the “young and promising” defender ended: in the summer, Kulikov was acquired by Buffalo, which sought to quickly emerge from perestroika and strengthen itself with experienced players. “We definitely like Kulikov. I don’t know if he is a defender of the first couple or even the first. I mean, Rasmus Ristolainen is our first defenseman, so Dmitry will be the second,” said smiling general manager Tim Murray, who said his club followed the player separately during the playoffs.

Kulikov himself said in a later interview that he “wanted to throw the phone at the wall.” Instead of a new professional level, being traded to the Sabers became a nightmare. Everything was confusing: several injuries suffered during the championship and, in general, a very poor team performance. For a time, Kulikov was the worst defenseman in the league in terms of advanced offensive statistics. “He has to play better. Kulikov will not be included in the lineup if he does not show good play in the next 19 games,” Sabers coach Dan Bylsma said. As a result, the team had no coach or player in the new season.

Dmitry Kulikov in Buffalo

Photo: Zuma/TASS

In the summer of 2017, Kulikov moved to Winnipeg, where he spent three years, but moved to a team with an already complete defense, where there was someone who played in the majority. Player functionality changed: Kulikov played on the third pair and was the main minority killer along with Tyler Myers. He went unnoticed, but was quite effective: unfortunately, Kulikov missed almost the entire playoffs due to injury, and it was precisely that year that Winnipeg reached the conference finals.

Perhaps, after this, Kulikov’s profile changed from an offensive defender to a conditional homebody. This is most clearly shown in the statistics on ice time: Dmitry almost stopped playing in the power play, but at the same time he played “4 on 5” much more often. The hockey player himself did not agree with this division. “I never thought the term “stay-at-home defender” was correct. It seems to me that it is not necessary to use it, because each player should be able to connect and play defense. It doesn’t matter here whether you are an attacker or a defender,” Kulikov said.

Rare interview with a defender from 2018.

How our hockey player lives in the United States. He has a Swedish wife and an interesting career.

Over the three years from 2018 to 2021, Kulikov scored only 20 points in 156 games, but he surpassed this figure in one season in Minnesota, where he played with Kaprizov, and the team chef prepared borscht and pancakes for them. Alas, the playoffs erased all this: journalists directly called the defender’s game a “nightmare”, and the team, urgently liquidating the payment system, sent the defender to Anaheim.

After several years without much success, Kulikov returned to the club where he began his NHL career and to a coach who trusted him in Winnipeg. In Maurice’s Florida, power moves should do everything, and now Dmitry has a season-high 145 hits. “Malice is in the blood of the Panthers. They stand high, they do it hard and with a specific purpose. His defenders do not stop,” New York journalists write, referring to Kulikov.

Dmitri Kulikov

Photo: AP/TASS

Surprisingly, Kulikov, at 33 years old, is playing for the first time in a team that made it past the first round. Yes, he was in Winnipeg in 2018, but again, due to injury, the defenseman only played one game and nine minutes in those playoffs. Now Dmitry has become a reliable partner for Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the third pair. In one of the series games against Boston, these guys left the opponent with only one shot attempt during their game. And the story of Kulikov with the Cup on his head cannot be less beautiful than that of Bobrovsky, Panarin or Dadonov.

* This website provides news content gathered from various internet sources. It is crucial to understand that we are not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, or reliability of the information presented Read More

Puck Henry
Puck Henry
Puck Henry is an editor for ePrimefeed covering all types of news.
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