It's hard to believe that Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov is in his fifth NHL season and recently turned 23 years old. While Kulikov still flashes unlimited potential with his skating prowess and offensive skills, he also continues to madden coaches with his immature, egregious defensive-zone turnovers. After two injury-plagued seasons, there seems little reason for Kulikov to have just one goal and two assists in 23 games after notching back-to-back seasons of 26 and 28 points in 2010-11 and '11-12. Kulikov, the 14th pick in the 2009 draft, had 10 points in just 34 games last season. He is now working for his third coach in five seasons, and already Peter Horachek seems frustrated by the affable Russian's inconsistent spells. "He's an extremely talented young man and I think he has to process better,'' said Horachek after an optional practice Tuesday. "Whenever he makes mistakes, it's recognizing his awareness on the ice and recognizing what the situation is. "He's capable of making a great play and a bad play all at the same time. He's a guy we're constantly monitoring because of the talent level that he has. He's got to be more consistent.'' Horachek played Kulikov just 13:24 in Monday's 3-1 victory over the Flyers, while playing rookie newcomer Dylan Olsen 19:10. The Panthers' defense has vastly improved under Horachek as they went from allowing 3.56 goals per game in their first 16 games under coach Kevin Dineen to 1.88 over their last nine since the coaching change. Of course, that has a lot to do with goalie Tim Thomas rounding into form after a year off and two separate injuries in the first three weeks of the season. It's also due to a radical reduction of turnovers. Kulikov is a minus-8 and has 12 giveaways, or four less than team leader Tom Gilbert. Although he has had just four with Horachek behind the bench, his one gaffe, combined with an ill-timed penalty, basically handed the Rangers a 4-3 victory on Nov. 10. Not known to be overly physical, Kulikov's 33 penalty minutes are easily on track to surpass his career high of 45 PIMs in 72 games. Kulikov, who's in the final year of a two-year deal worth $5 million, has heard the social media whispers of him being on the trade market. But a Panthers' source said that they are not actively looking to move him. "Yeah,'' Kulikov replied when asked if he was happy as a Panther. "I'm obviously going through a rough time right now. I'm not playing a lot and not doing as good as I would want to do on the ice. It's been frustrating.'' Kulikov said he's enjoying the new north-south, fast-paced, aggressive style espoused by Horachek and believes that his skating speed will allow him to spend more time in the offensive zone. "I think that's the deal right now,'' Kulikov agreed about becoming more consistent. "The team is playing faster now. We're able to [transition] and our mindset, we're obviously playing more aggressively. I like that. "I would like to think I'm a good skater and I can keep up with the fast forwards and get the puck before we even get into our zone and eliminate their possession in our zone.'' Kulikov will be a restricted free agent after the season and he's one of seven defensemen on the Panthers' roster who will be either restricted or unrestricted, so the blue line will certainly take on a different look next season with prospects Colby Robak and Alex Petrovic waiting in the wings.
Horachek seeks consistency from defenseman Dmitry Kulikov
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel | Nov 27