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Florida's Kulikov out against Carolina

by Alain Poupart /

SUNRISE, Fla. — Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov rejoined the Florida Panthers after signing a two-year contract Thursday. But he will not be in the lineup for Saturday’s season opener against the Carolina Hurricanes.

After passing his physical on Friday, Kulikov took part in Saturday’s morning skate and at one point had a one-on-one conversation with coach Kevin Dineen.

“You’ve got to look at a guy, where he’s at and if he’s going to help you,” Dineen said. “Frankly, it’s disappointing he’s not ready to play.”

Kulikov, the Panthers’ first-round pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, was a restricted free agent and played in the Kontinental Hockey League during the lockout.

He flew from Russia to New York on Thursday and said the contract was agreed on during the car ride from the airport.

“I think it’s for the best, for the team and for me personally because I don’t want to get out there and disappoint or not perform the way I’m supposed to,” Kulikov said. “It’s just best if I get a couple of practices in and then play a game.

“I have to adjust to the time difference. Just arriving to the U.S. and playing in a game right away, it’s tough. I’d like to be in the lineup, but unfortunately that’s the way it is right now. We’ll do whatever it takes to be in the lineup on Monday (at Ottawa).”

Kulikov is one of three regular Panthers defensemen who won’t play Saturday night. Mike Weaver sustained an injury during an intrasquad scrimmage Wednesday, and Erik Gudbranson is still nursing a shoulder injury sustained in a wakeboarding accident over the summer.

The injuries have opened the door for Michael Caruso to make his NHL debut almost seven years after he was drafted by the Panthers.

Caruso played 32 games this season for San Antonio of the American Hockey League.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Caruso, who was the Panthers' fourth-round pick in 2006. “It’s been a lot of hard work, just a lot of time thinking about this moment. I’m just going to try to take it all in and remember everything.”

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