Dmitry Kulikov has been absent from Florida Panthers training camp, but his return to South Florida is imminent. The 22-year-old defenseman and former first-round draft pick has reportedly re-signed with the team.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported Thursday that Kulikov and the team agreed to a two-year deal. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Kulikov played for the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League during the NHL lockout. He played for Yaroslavl's juniors team from 2008 to 2011. He had stayed in Russia after the lockout ended, raising questions as to whether he would even return to the NHL.
Kulikov still needs to pass a physical exam. He missed 24 games last season, undergoing knee surgery last January. He returned to the ice in March, and contributed an assist in the Panthers' first-round playoff loss to the New Jersey Devils.
"I'm totally healthy," he told the Sun-Sentinel on Thursday. "I need to get some testing and a couple of practices but I can't answer that right now, it's up to the coaches."
"I'm excited about the season," he continued. "I haven't met the new guys but I'm definitely excited to meet all the new guys and the old guys, too."
Kulikov was a restricted free agent, and his re-signing became all the more critical after Jason Garrison left via free agency for the Vancouver Canucks last summer. Garrison played nearly 24 minutes a game last season, scoring 16 goals with 17 assists.
The Panthers selected Kulikov with the 14th pick of the 2009 NHL Draft. In his first three seasons in the league, he has scored 13 goals and added 57 assists. He is expected to rejoin the second line alongside either Mike Weaver or Ed Jovanovski.