The Minnesota Wild have strong defensive depth and it was noticeable during the regular season but obviously disappeared during the postseason. One of those players that was lower down on the defensive depth chart, but still made an impact was Dmitry Kulikov. He was a new addition to the Wild lineup during free agency last summer along with teammate Alex Goligoski.
Unlike many of Kulikov’s defensive linemates, he was not drastically affected by injuries. However, he wasn’t completely unscathed, as he missed one game towards the end of October with a lower-body injury. Thankfully it wasn’t serious and he came back quickly, then stayed in the lineup until he was a healthy scratch on Mar. 24. His next exit from the roster wasn’t until the postseason started when he again was a healthy scratch.
Something that was an important part of Kulikov’s contribution to the team but probably didn’t get overly noticed was his befriending Kirill Kaprizov. The two Russians were pretty close throughout the season and it definitely benefitted him to have someone there that’s been through this before and has spent some considerable time in the NHL, and also spoke his language.
In the last few seasons, Kulikov has been bounced around from team to team which included splitting time between two teams during the tumultuous 2020-21 season. Then he managed to land with the Wild in 2021-22, where he played 80 games and scored seven goals and assisted on 17 others for 24 points. For the entirety of his career he hasn’t put up many points, but this season was his third-highest. Even though he didn’t have many impressive stats, he did manage to tie his career-high for game-winning goals with two. On a bad note, he had trouble keeping the puck with 31 giveaways and just 16 takeaways.
Over Kulikov’s career, he hasn’t been shy to deliver hits. This season wasn’t any different, as he had 100 hits that put him just 14 hits out of a top-five place amongst his teammates. He’s another Wild player who was not afraid to sacrifice their body to stop a potential goal, as he blocked 103 shots which took the third-place spot on the team.
While Kulikov didn’t contribute a lot of offense, he kept his defensive skills prioritized. He, like Goligoski, often went unnoticed for their contributions on the defensive side of things because they weren’t scoring the big goals. However, it often gets overlooked that blocking all those shots prevented numerous goals from being scored against them.
Kulikov’s Small Postseason
With the addition of Jacob Middleton at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline, it left the Wild slightly overloaded with defensemen. They had their core of Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba, and Jonas Brodin, then they also had Goligoski, Jordie Benn, Jon Merrill, Middleton, and Kulikov.
Unfortunately, Kulikov didn’t end up being one of those top three or four going into the postseason, as he played in only two of the six playoff games for the Wild. In those two games, he did make an impression with a single assist on Dumba’s lone goal in Game 6, the final hurrah for the Wild before their season ended.
As far as defense is concerned, Kulikov had four hits but no blocked shots; his best stat in the regular season, he completely dropped in the postseason. The lack of shots blocked wasn’t the only issue with his game either, as he had two giveaways and zero takeaways. Add him to the list of Wild defensemen who had trouble keeping the puck on their stick and not giving it to their opponents.
Kulikov’s Final Grade
While Kulikov had a decent regular season, he didn’t have much time to do anything in the postseason other than struggle. It’s hard to say if he would’ve done any better had he played more, but the way things ended, maybe he could’ve had more of an offensive contribution or at least blocked more shots. Regardless, the postseason results were not just on his shoulders.
Kulikov gets put on the list of players who earned a B+ as their grade. That may seem high, but his regular-season can’t be ignored, as he was an integral part of their defensive core especially when they lost both Spurgeon and Brodin to injury. He stepped up at an important time during the regular season, but it’s also hard for fans to see him not step up the same way in his two postseason appearances.
The Wild have a lot of things to figure out this offseason in terms of who to keep and who to let go. Thankfully, they still have Kulikov for one more season before they have to decide what to do with his contract. He’ll have another chance to improve, not only on what he can do during the regular season but also play more in the postseason. It’ll be fun to see if he can have the motivation to play better because there is some untapped potential there, and the Wild will need it to come out next season if they hope to have success.
Mariah Holland is a contributing Minnesota Wild writer for THW. She’s been covering the Wild at THW since October of 2020 and specializes in game takeaways and weekly check-ins. She is always looking for different angles to cover the Wild and dig deeper into the stories surrounding the team to help fans connect on a more personal level and to keep an eye on the latest follow her on Twitter @MariahEStark.