Weight: 183 lbs
Background & Player Description:
“In only his first year with Drummondville, Kulikov led all defensemen with 62 points (12-50-62) in 57 games and was named the 2008-09 Defensive Rookie of the Year, the Rookie of the Year, the Best Professional Prospect and Defenseman of the Year by the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. As a member of Team Russia at the 2009 World Junior Championships, he recorded four assists (0-4-4) helping Russia win the bronze medal. He has twice represented Russia at the Under-18 World Championships, winning silver in 2008 and gold in 2007.”
“In his first year (in the QMJHL) he’s been an all-around good player. He’s a great skater; he can carry the puck and shoot the puck well. He’s strong too, he can take big hits and they don’t seem to bother him. What we saw this year is likely what we are going to see from Kulikov in the future; he’s going to play the same way in the NHL. He knows when to join the rush, he plays defense first, but recognizes the holes. He can shoot the puck well on the powerplay and I wouldn’t be surprised if he played in the NHL next year.”
–Chris Bordeleau, NHL Central Scouting
Our Bloggers Say:
Intelligent, puck mover, with NHL-caliber ready outlet passing and high end distribution skills .. misses a big shot from the point and hesitant to let it go (*ahem* Kaberle *ahem*) .. reads the play with excellent anticipation defensively .. physical and aggressive in his own zone .. will be forever known as the Russian player who stopped Tavares last second shot from the boards against Canada that Jordan Eberle potted to force overtime in WJC .. prime selection at 7 for Toronto, to keep building from the back end.
The lanky Russian defender is tremendously skilled in all aspects of the game. Standing 6-1 and 183 pounds, Kulikov has shown the ability to handle the physical game at the Junior level, and with plenty of room to fill out his frame should have no difficulty with this at the NHL level either. A slick puck-handler and an excellent skater, Kulikov is tremendous in the transition game. Yet despite his obvious offensive gifts, he approaches the game from a defense-first perspective. Adept at blocking shots and forcing turnovers, Kulikov’s greatest asset is his ability to turn those turnovers into odd-man rushes with a quick and accurate outlet pass.
Kulikov is a worthwhile top draft pick for any team in need of a defenseman with offensive skill. The only question is immediate impact … having spent only one season in the QMJHL, Kulikov is likely still a couple years away from the NHL.
With 62 points in 57 QMJHL games Dmitri Kulikov has not only demonstrated his offensive potential from the blueline, he has also demonstrated a willing to play in North America. With a mix of hockey sense and skating that ensures he is almost always in the correct position, Kulikovâ€™s upside has been a faultless work ethic that has served him well in the transition from European hockey.
Rated by Guy Boucher, a former coach of Sidney Crosby, as one of the most underrated prospects in this seasonâ€™s draft, Kulikovâ€™s superb intelligence could make him a sleeper and a potential long term replacement for Tomas Kaberle. Whether he fits into the archetypal Burke mould is another question.
-Richard Steven Williams
Alex Tran’s Analysis:
For a multitude of reasons, Kulikov would be the perfect complement to Luke Schenn on Toronto’s top pairing for a long, long time. The first inclination upon hearing his name is to immediately draw upon the usual European/Russian stereotypes: the fear of having him play in the KHL and the difficult adjustment to the North American game. Fortunately, none of these apply in Kulikov’s case, as he has just completed a tremendously successful season of Canadian hockey, playing for Drummondville of the QMJHL. And boy, did he make a lasting impression. Kulikov came in and blew away his competition, bringing in a trophy case full of awards in his rookie season including two “Rookie of the Month” awards, First Team All-Star, Rookie All-Star, Defensive Rookie of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Best Professional Prospect, and Defenseman of the Year. That is absolutely ridiculous. He played at over a point-a-game pace with 62 points in 57 games played, posted a +34 rating, and came within a lucky bounce of winning the Memorial Cup. He plays a rush-style of game similar to the likes of a Brian Leetch, with above average skating ability, the poise of a 20-year vet, a strong point shot ideal for a powerplay quarterback and the hockey sense of an elite offensive player. But Dmitry’s game encompasses much more than offensive flair, as he takes great pride in his two-way play. His coach in Drummondville relied on the 17 year old rookie to log 30 minutes of ice-time a night for one of the best teams in the entire CHL. Some of the other QMJHL coaches, perhaps a little enthusiastic, called Kulikov one of the best defensemen to come out of the QMJHL in over 30 years. Laimorello knows firsthand the kind of success you can get with a Niedermayer-Stevens style top pairing, and Burke does too, having brought the same Niedermayer over to join Pronger in Anaheim. With the possible departures of Kaberle and/or Kubina over the coming offseason, an elite two-way defenseman may the other half of a championship calibre top pairing that Burke is looking for.