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Countdown 12: Kulikov's Second Season

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
The Panthers 2010-11 season is quickly approaching and with that, is taking a look at the top ten questions, players to watch and games of the season on a countdown to the home opener on October 16th against Tampa Bay. We'll unveil one of the top ten on a rotating basis each day to help fans get ready for what hopes to be an exciting season.

Dmitry Kulikov skates up the ice with the puck against Atlanta's Evander Kane in a NHL hockey game at Philips Arena, Tuesday, March 2, 2010, in Atlanta.(AP Photo/Gregory Smith)
In today's topic, we take a closer look at defenseman Dmitry Kulikov in the Top 10 Players To Watch this season.

Head coach Peter DeBoer said that he had to force his way on the team.

Just over three months after being taken 14th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft in Montreal, Dmitry Kulikov did just that.

The blueliner had made the jump from junior hockey to the NHL and he did it pretty successfully. Playing in 68 games for the Cats, he finished with a rookie defenseman franchise record 13 assists (16 points total).

Kulikov was pretty happy with his first NHL season, even though it had it's ups-and-downs.

"I think it went pretty well. The first season in the NHL for a young guy, there was obviously a tough part but I think I did pretty well," said Kulikov. "It was tough at the beginning and I had to battle through all of the tough things. (I) didn't know all of the guys at first. Didn't know where to eat. Didn't know who I was playing against.

"But as the season went along it was getting easier, not in that it was easier for me to play but in the fact that I know what I was doing."

The Lipetsk, Russia native noticed a distinct difference between playing for Drummondville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Panthers.

"First of all it was the speed. The guys are faster in the NHL," said Kulikov. "There's a lot smarter and they have a lot more skill than in junior. It's a huge step from the juniors to the NHL."

In his second year, the soon-to-be 20-year old (turns 20 on October 29th) is looking to becoming an all-around player, one that can be counted on in all three zones.

"I was thinking about that," said Kulikov in reference to what he wanted to focus on this year. "My defensive game. That's a big part of my game that I have to improve on.

"I have to be more solid in my own zone...This year I'm feeling like I can be more mobile and I can join the rush more but I have to be more responsible in my own end, take care of business in my own zone and then jump in the rush when I get a chance."

Becoming that all-around player, Kulikov feels that will be full of big things.

"My expectations are pretty high for myself, especially from a team standpoint," said Kulikov.

1 - Registering 13 assists, Kulikov broke the franchise record for assists by a rookie defenseman.

2 - Recorded his first two-goal game November 27th against Toronto.

5 -
Had a season/career high five shots March 18th against Phoenix.

7 - Picked up 10 power play points, tied for seventh among rookies.

37 - Picked up a career-high 37 assists during the 2008-09 season.

16 - Finished with 16 points on the season.

25:28 - Played in a season-high 25:28 March 9th at Minnesota.

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