First round draft pick Dmitry Kulikov, who has impressed the Panthers with his play on the blue line throughout training camp and preseason, agreed Tuesday to an entry-level contract pending league approval.
The 18-year-old Kulikov, selected by the Panthers 14th overall in the Entry Draft, has impressed Panthers coach Peter DeBoer with his skating and offensive ability. Kulikov has a power play goal and an assist and is a plus-three in five pre-season games with the Panthers.
The Panthers now have nine regular-season games to decide whether to keep Kulikov on their NHL squad or send him back to Drummondville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). The 6-1, 185-pound Kulikov has made it clear since being drafted his dream is to play in the NHL this season.
"He's had a good camp, he's a very talented player, but he's young," said Panthers assistant General Manager Randy Sexton. "But he's earned a chance to get additional games. We have nine games to give him before we decide whether he stays with us.
"I think we have a great coaching staff here and Kitch (assistant coach Mike Kitchen) is a great teacher, but players have to continue to play to develop."
A native of Lipetsk, Russia, Kulikov played his first season of hockey last year in North America for Drummondville and was a hit, leading all defenseman with 62 points (50 assists) in 57 games and being named Rookie of the Year, Best Professional Prospect and Defenseman of the Year by the QMJHL.
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)