The Buffalo Sabres preseason is underway and the regular season is just one week away. Heading into this year it’s playoffs or bust for most fans, but is the roster talented enough for the Sabres to end its five year playoff drought?
As the regular season draws near, 7ABC will take a closer look at the training camp roster and put together our list of the “Top 20 Talents.”
Here’s the criteria on how the rankings will be established:
-Overall skill level
-Age, improving/declining ability
On to the countdown:
No. 9 D Dmitry Kulikov
Why he’s here
Kulikov is a bit of a mystery heading into the 2016-2017 season. Obviously, the Sabres think highly of Kulikov, but what kind of player is he? Looking at the numbers, nothing really jumps off the page. So far, the 25-year-old defenseman has 138 career points in 460 games. Kulikov’s best year came in 2011, when he finished with 28 points in 58 games. The Russian defenseman doesn’t jump off the stat sheet, but scoring a ton is not his game, and it likely won’t ever be.
What’s truly impressive with Kulikov is how many games he’s played at such a young age. This season will be Kulikov’s eighth and he’s still only 25. While some may say that’s a lot of miles on a player, others will argue that’s valuable experience. I tend to agree with the latter.
Last season Kulikov averaged slightly more than 21-minutes of ice time a game. Those minutes will more than likely increase this year, as Kulikov projects to be one of the Sabres top-four defenseman. Like mentioned earlier, don’t expect Kulikov to score at the pace of Rasmus Ristolainen last season, but he should be a solid, steady player who can be sent off the bench in nearly every situation.
Since reporting to Buffalo after the World Cup of Hockey, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma has had nothing but good things to say about Kulikov. At practice, he’s looked comfortable with his teammates and sends a nice breakout pass out of the zone. I fully expect Kulikov to be paired with Ristolainen in the starting lineup sometime soon. Ristolainen, of course, is still a restricted free agent. Kulikov is battling an injury after his first preseason game. There’s no timetable on when Kulikov will return, but the injury doesn’t appear to be long term. Regardless, I think Sabres fans will grow to like Kulikov over the course of this season. Don’t expect a ton of offense but do expect some grit, perhaps like this.
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