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Sunday Coffee: Sticking

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Dmitry Kulikov (Getty Images)
“The kid is the real deal. He’s played well, he’s done everything we’ve asked. He gives us a dimension on our power play we really don’t have back there; a guy that really sees the ice and can distribute the puck very well, which is pretty incredible for a kid as young as he is." - Panthers Head Coach Peter DeBoer on rookie Dmitry Kulikov


Just moments after being selected in June by the Panthers as the 14th overall pick at the NHL Entry Draft, Dmitry Kulikov stood in a suit and tie in the back of the Bell Centre in Montreal and declared; “I know where I’m going. I know my dream.”
 
They weren’t the words of a cocky, conceited kid but rather a focused, 18-year-old determined to play his way out of juniors and into the NHL. Exactly four months later, Kulikov has succeeded in his dream.
 
            The Panthers had nine games (ending Saturday in Philadelphia) to determine whether Kulikov would have been better served by being sent back to his junior team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). That would have meant his entry-level contract wouldn’t have kicked in until next season.
 
            But over the last few weeks, it was clearly obvious that Kulikov was going to be spending the season in South Florida. In the words of coach Peter DeBoer; “For me, he’s shown he’s an NHL defenseman.”
 
            “The kid is the real deal,” he added. “He’s played well, he’s done everything we’ve asked. He gives us a dimension on our power play we really don’t have back there; a guy that really sees the ice and can distribute the puck very well, which is pretty incredible for a kid as young as he is.”
 
            DeBoer’s also been impressed with the way Kulikov has bounced back from games he and-or the Panthers haven’t played well.
 
            “He hasn’t lost any confidence, even in the games we’ve struggled as a team or he’s struggled individually,” he said. “For me that’s the litmus test for a young guy; after a tough night or a tough team night whether their confidence is shaken or whether they handle it the right way.”
 
            And DeBoer’s use of Kulikov is proof he believes the rookie is a top four defenseman. He’s averaging 18:01 of ice time per game, fifth among all rookies, been playing on the Panthers first power play unit (he tied for most power play time Friday against the Penguins with 4:30), and DeBoer wasn’t afraid to put him on the ice in overtime against Sid and Co.
 
            Kulikov, one of the last players off the ice each day, has taken everything in stride. Before hitting the road last weekend for games in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia he said he was happy with his progress but “the worst thing for me right now is I’m a minus.”
 
            “I’ve got to play better defense and not give them opportunities to score,” he said. “I think I have to keep playing the way I’ve been playing and try to improve each day and prove to my coaches every day I belong in this league. I want to stay here.”          
 
ITEM OF THE WEEK
 
Pink earrings in the shape of Tomas Vokoun’s jersey. Fifteen percent of the proceeds go to the Susan Komen Foundation.
 
http://cgi.ebay.com/Tomas-Vokoun-Hockey-Earrings-Pink-Breast-Cancer-Panth_W0QQitemZ400076364563QQcmdZViewItemQQptZUS_SM_Fan_Shop?hash=item5d2668db13
 
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
 
            “We’re not ripping up our blueprints. No business plan is ripped up even after 90 days and our season isn’t even 30 days old yet.” Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke.

            “Those two guys are probably a lot meaner than me on the ice.” Sabres’ 6-8 defenseman Tyler Myers when asked to compare himself to Zdeno Chara and Chris Pronger.
 
EMOTIONAL VISIT
 
            The Thrashers bussed two hours last weekend after their game in Buffalo to hold a practice in Elmira, Ontario and the new Dan Snyder Memorial Arena, named in honor of the Thrasher killed six days after being in accident in 2003 with teammate Dany Heatley.
 
            Snyder’s parents, Grahan and LuAnn, welcomed the team. Coach John Anderson, who coached Snyder in the American Hockey League, said it was “pretty sobering” to his players. Ilya Kovalchuk, who played with Snyder, said; “It’s an emotional day for all of us.”
 
NOTES
 
Former Panther Brett McLean signed a one-year deal to play for SC Bern of the Swiss National League...After losing Saturday night to Vancouver, the Maple Leafs are not only the NHL’s last winless team but set a franchise record for their worst start at 0-7-1…It’s not going to be easy for the Bruins for the next several weeks. After losing Milan Lucic for 4-to-6 weeks with a broken finger, they’ve now lost Marc Savard, their leading scorer the past three seasons, for the same amount of time with a broken foot. Coupled with the trades of Phil Kessel and Chuck Kobasew, there could be some tough times ahead…From Pat Hickey in the Montreal Gazette: “If you thought Hamlet was a confused young man, you’ve never met Sergei Kostitsyn…Interesting question posed by NHL.com: Can Alex Ovechkin score 50 goals in 50 games, becoming the first player since Brett Hull in 1990-91?  “It’s not a realistic goal,” said Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau…Dany Heatley on Dany Heatley: “I don’t know if I needed a fresh start, but after the summer it was nice that something happened.” Traded Sept. 12. “If you want to call it a fresh start, that’s fine. But it’s not so much that I had a down year and needed to go somewhere else to have a fresh start. There were issues that I felt made it best that we go our separate ways. All I can say is I’m happy to be a Shark.”…During a five-game span ending with a 2-1 victory earlier in the week against the Canucks, the streaking Oilers were outshot 185-106 but managed to go 4-1 thanks to goalie Nikolai Khabibulin…. Chris Chelios on deciding to play in the American Hockey League: “I want to make sure there is nothing left when I retire, so I don’t want to be one of those guys who comes back. Not that I don’t admire what (Brett) Favre is doing. I’d love to have the same story he’s got right now.”…For only the fourth time in NHL history, all 30 teams were in action Saturday night…
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