At his seventh NHL season, Dmitry Kulikov is one of the key players in the Panthers’ lineup. The defenseman from Lipetsk, Russia, was signed to a new contract during the summer of 2014, with a cap hit of $4.33 million. He also represented his home country at the junior and senior level. In this translated interview, originally appearing on the Russian website Russia-hockey.ru, Kulikov talked about other Russian players in the NHL, the Panthers’ first line, and the NHL Atlantic Division.
* For the original Russia-hockey.ru article, click here.
– Dmitry, according to some North American media outlets, the Panthers have a breakthrough season in front of them.
– I hope that these experts will be right. I think that we have a good chance to repeat last season’s success, we only lacked a few points to get to a playoff spot. We have almost the same team as last year, but some young guys are one year older now, they have more experience. This is definitely a plus.
– What are the Panthers’ strong points?
– I think that one of our strong points should be the power play. We have many players with good puck skills who can consistently score with the man advantage.
– And the player with the best puck skills is Jaromir Jagr. Do you agree?
– How coud I even dispute that? Jagr is such a great player. If you didn’t know how old he is, you wouldn’t imagine that he’s past 40 now. Someone may think that he passed his prime already, but the truth is that he is able to leave many young players in the dust. His work ethic is simply outstanding, no one can even get close to him in this aspect. I call him “Mr. Jagr.” With a lot of respect.
– The Panthers’ top line of Jagr – Barkov – Huberdeau seems to be a line made up of father and sons.
– You said father and sons? I have kind of the opposite feeling, it looks like Jagr, Barkov and Huberdeau are of the same age and played together for their whole life. It’s a very interesting line, yet another of our strong points. You can’t wait to see them hit the ice.
– Did you discuss with Barkov last year the IIHF WC game between Russia and Finland, where Finland won after the shootout?
– We actually only joked about it.
– What are your goals for this season? Ice time, points, goals, plus/minus…
– I don’t set myself these kind of goals. This season I want to enjoy playing hockey without stressing over points or plus/minus. I know from my past experience that this kind of stuff can have a negative influence on your play.
– One of the most original Panthers players is Shawn Thornton. He’s one of the few enforcers remaining in the league.
– Yeah, Shawn is one of the last ones. He knows that there aren’t many fighters right now in the NHL. I can tell you that he is the best player amongst the enforcers I played with. It’s not a surprise that he can still find a spot on the team.
– Many consider your Atlantic Division the strongest division in the NHL.
– I can tell you that in our Division, there are a lot of though games, but I can’t say for sure that it’s the hardest in the league. But I can say that our division is the most Russian. This summer, many KHL players moved to the NHL and I can only be happy about it.
– What team is your toughest rival in your division?
– Well, one of the best teams is our neighbor in Florida, the Tampa Bay Lightning. By the way, I wish Andrei Vasilevskiy a fast return on ice. He’s got a serious problem, but thank God nowadays you can cure these things quite easily.
– You told us about Russian players who moved to the NHL this summer. What player impressed you the most?
– The season for the Panthers started late, I don’t have much to say. Soon we’ll play against the Flyers, it will be interesting to see what Yevgeni Medvedev will be able to do. I think that it won’t be easy for the Panthers to deal with such good new players, and considering also other more experienced players, we’ll also need some luck for a good start of the season.