One of the more promising young defenseman in the game is Florida’s Dmitri Kulikov. Although he is only 23-years-old, the Russian already has extensive experience, having made the NHL as an 18-year-old and already playing in his fifth season.
Playing on a young team in the midst of a re-build, Kulikov is one of the veterans of the team despite his age, and is currently playing over 20 minutes a game for the Panthers.
Our own Adrian Szkolar caught up with Dmitri about the team and his play, which can be read below:
* HOW THE FINAL MONTHS OF THE SEASON HAVE GONE FOR THE TEAM:
We've been struggling. We can't start games the right way, some games, we just don't have effort, and that's a big reason why we are losing games. It's frustrating.
We have a lot of young guys in the lineup that are getting an opportunity in this league, trying to establish themselves and prove what they can do. I guess we can take a positive out of that, that everyone is getting a chance at this time of the year.
* HOW DOES HE HANDLE PLAYING SUCH A BIG ROLE ON THE TEAM DESPITE HIS AGE?
As a young team, we have a lot of new guys still learning the system. For us, it sometimes gets confusing in the defensive zone. Obviously playing big minutes, you get to play more and more in those situations. Sometimes, I get frustrated with myself, but I'm happy that the coaches trust me and put me out there for big minutes like that.
I'm only 23, but it doesn't matter that I've been in the league for four years. It's my fifth year, and I have more experience, but I'm still learning. Every game brings something different, there's certain situations you can learn, there's reads in the game that I still have to learn.
* DID COMING OVER TO NORTH AMERICA HIS DRAFT YEAR GIVE HIM A LEG UP TO THE NHL?
I think so. At that point, when I was getting drafted, every team was asking if I'd go back to Russia. They were afraid that if they drafted me, I wouldn't come. So by coming over to the QMJHL, I let teams know that I came over here and that I want to stay.
* ADVICE HE WOULD GIVE TO RUSSIAN PLAYERS LOOKING TO COME OVER:
I don't think there's any advice I could give. Every young player, their future, the way they see it, if they want to come over here, they know how it is. They know that that's what they want to do. If they want to stay over in Russia, it's fine too. The league there is getting better and better.
* ON THE DIFFERENCES IN STYLES BETWEEN THE KHL AND NHL:
I guess the biggest difference is that it's more physical here, there's more hitting. On the smaller rinks, there is less space, and you have to make your decisions quicker. The KHL has good speed, and the players are very skilled, but I think the bigger the rink, it adds up to more skill in the game, since you have more space in the corners, and the game is more on the outside.
Playing against forwards, there's a difference. On the smaller ice, everything is coming at the net, and you have to be always alert for the rebounds, since most of the goals are scored from the front of the net. On the bigger ice, it's more about positioning. You have to be in the right spot all the time because players have more time to make decisions and plays.
* ON HIS NEXT CONTRACT, AND THE TERM HE IS SEEKING:
There have been a few talks with my agent and the general manager. But at this point, I don't think there is any number of years that I can talk about.