Most likely to Succeed is our newest series which points out one player from every team and explains why that player is poised to increase their point totals. While some teams may have more than one player likely to breakout and some none, we will focus on the ones who actually should improve with a full healthy season. File this article under a sleeper-type but sleepers would not be called that if people saw them coming.
While general manager Dale Tallon continues to rebuild this expansion franchise, a few players will continue to get wet behind their ears as they dive into larger roles. In an attempt to talk a bit more about defensemen, we will skip the mandated Michael Grabner for Calder conversation and focus on smooth skating Russian defender Dmitry Kulikov.
Last season the young Kulikov made the jump directly from the QMJHL with a modest 3 goals and 16 assists. These statistics look pretty weak but show promise in a place where hockey has run dry as he will continue to land more playing time and truly grow with no pressure. In playing in a relatively weak division he could pad his stats if playing with the right players. In addition the departure of Jordan Leopold last season should continue to give him additional playing time.
Keep in mind that Kulikov only played one year of North American hockey prior to reaching the pros with the Panthers and adapted really quite quickly. His continued learning curve should continue as a player like Eric Gudbranson comes through the pipeline to assist him. High ceiling with this kid and some lethal offensive potential waiting to be untapped.