Today we look at Dmitry Kulikov who was brought in to help with the Jets depth on the left side of the defense even with his previous injury history and did an ok enough job – at least on his side of the ice – until those back issues flared up yet again.
#5– LH DEFENSEMAN
6’1″ / 205 lbs / Age: 27
Current Contract Status: Signed through the 2019-20 season ($4,333,333/yr)
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PLAYER’S SEASON IN REVIEW
The Jets took a bit of a gamble when they signed Kulikov to a three year deal last summer. On one hand he was brought in to help shore up their depth along the left side of the defensive depth chart, but he was also coming off a season where he was injured in a Sabres pre-season game, missed half of that season due to a back injury and when he returned, looked like a shell of his former self. Both sides were hoping a fresh start would help as the Jets didn’t need Kulikov to return to his previous 21+ minute a night average ice time that he had in Florida, but with a slightly smaller work load on the Jets third pairing, he could still be as effective as he was in his first few years with the Panthers.
It worked… Kinda. Sorta.
With Myers on that third pair, the duo was reasonably ok for the first 10 or 12 games or so of the season. It was that first handful of games where they saw typically third pairing – sometimes second pairing duty limited to 15 to 18 minutes of ice time per game and while not flashy or putting up big offensive numbers, they seemed to hold their own defensively. It was when the Jets started to deal with injuries to Enstrom and Byfuglien that the Jets pressed both Myers and Kulikov into larger minutes which exposed them to making more mistakes.
Again, Kulikov wasn’t overly bad when he played this season, it’s just that he wasn’t exactly a shut down defenseman (not that anyone expected that out of him) and he did very little to help generate offense. When you look at the Jets defensive pairings visual as provided by Micah Blake McCurdy (On Twitter as @IneffectiveMath) over at HockeyViz.com you can see Kulikov really was just a lesser defensive Toby Enstrom type:
You may be able to note in that graph that with Kulikov, both Myers and Ben Chirot were a bit more effective beside Kulikov defensively, although – especially in Myers case – he didn’t help on the offensive side of things. In a limited role, Kulikov is a fine enough defenseman who can help limit shots, but that’s all he does. He lacks puck moving ability and he’s not going to generate any kind of offense the other way.
To call Kulikov’s season “injury plagued” may be a touch misleading as well. He did miss a pair of games in October and three games as the calendar turned from January to February after an injury suffered against the Sharks on January 23 on a vicious hit from behind by Tomas Hertyl. In all he got in 62 regular season games before his back issues seemed to flare up again and shut him down from March 10th onward, but the Jets did at least get three quarters of a season out of him which is a marked improvement from his one year in Buffalo.
Kulikov had resumed skating with the team midway through the playoffs but wasn’t “medically cleared” until a few games into the Jets series with Vegas. He was inserted into the lineup for game five against the Knights and was very ineffective and limited to just nine minutes of ice time.
We’re kinda right back to where we started with Kulikov a year ago. He’s coming off a season where he missed a bunch of games with a back injury and the Jets are hoping he can fill a role on the left side of the third pairing. There were signs last season that it may be a role that he could do well in but also one where very little offense should be expected from him and possibly any partner he’s with.
If the Jets need to lean on him to be anything more than a third pairing d-man that they can put out on the PK once in a while, then it may be time to start worrying.