First round draft pick Dmitry Kulikov
, who has impressed the Panthers with his play on the blue line throughout training camp and preseason, agreed Tuesday to an entry-level contract pending league approval.
The 18-year-old Kulikov, selected by the Panthers 14th overall in the Entry Draft, has impressed Panthers coach Peter DeBoer with his skating and offensive ability. Kulikov has a power play goal and an assist and is a plus-three in five pre-season games with the Panthers.
The Panthers now have nine regular-season games to decide whether to keep Kulikov on their NHL squad or send him back to Drummondville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). The 6-1, 185-pound Kulikov has made it clear since being drafted his dream is to play in the NHL this season.
"He's had a good camp, he's a very talented player, but he's young," said Panthers assistant General Manager Randy Sexton. "But he's earned a chance to get additional games. We have nine games to give him before we decide whether he stays with us.
"I think we have a great coaching staff here and Kitch (assistant coach Mike Kitchen) is a great teacher, but players have to continue to play to develop."
A native of Lipetsk, Russia, Kulikov played his first season of hockey last year in North America for Drummondville and was a hit, leading all defenseman with 62 points (50 assists) in 57 games and being named Rookie of the Year, Best Professional Prospect and Defenseman of the Year by the QMJHL.