Florida Panthers

Best still might be to come for Panthers’ Dmitry Kulikov

Coming into his own: Dmitry Kulikov is a veteran at age 24.
Coming into his own: Dmitry Kulikov is a veteran at age 24. AP

In six seasons with the Panthers, Dmitry Kulikov has seen plenty of people come and go.

The defenseman has had four head coaches, and the Panthers’ rotating door has made him the most tenured player on the roster.

Everyone else who started the 2009-10 season in Finland with the 18-year-old version of Kulikov is now somewhere else.

“It went quick,’’ said Kulikov, who turned 24 on Wednesday. “It feels like it’s only been a couple of years. I’ve been through so many teammates, it’s tough to keep track. But it’s been fun, a good experience, and I’ve enjoyed every part of it.’’

Kulikov was rushed into the lineup after being the 14th overall pick of the 2009 draft.

The Panthers crafted a deal to get him out of his contract with his junior team in Russia on the eve of the 2009 opener in Helsinki, and he’s yet to play a single game in the minors.

It takes longer for a defenseman to develop in the NHL, and Kulikov has seen his share of rough patches. He’s made mistakes over his first five years, but today, he appears to be on the verge of fulfilling the promise the Panthers had always hoped for.

On Thursday, Kulikov will play in his 321st game with the Panthers.

Goalie Roberto Luongo has played more seasons and more games with the Panthers than Kulikov, although they weren’t concurrent as he spent eight seasons with Vancouver before returning in March.

“[Kulikov] is playing good, solid, two-way hockey which is exactly what we want from him,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said. “His skating ability is second to none in the NHL; he moves the puck very well. He’s only 24 and this is when a lot of guys come into their own. We expect big things from him.’’

Kulikov and Willie Mitchell have been paired up since Florida’s opener against Tampa Bay and seemed to develop instant chemistry.

“He’s learning from me,’’ Kulikov said, drawing a laugh from locker room neighbor Erik Gudbranson. “He may be 37 but he’s still learning every day. I’m just joking, but he’s a good player and is so confident. He just knows the game I’m reading off of him and he’s reading off of me and we’re really playing well together.’’

The two have played very well together with Mitchell saying he’s surprised how quickly everything has come together for them on the ice.

“To be honest, I had been playing in the west and didn’t know who he was when I first got here,’’ Mitchell said.

“But we’ve hit it off and I think we really support each other very well. We work hard to get open for the other guy and that’s a nice safety valve to get the puck out when there’s pressure. That’s the biggest surprise, really, because he works so hard to get open. His best attribute is his feet because he can skate himself out of trouble, can use his speed to get out of traffic.’’

▪ The Panthers will celebrate Hispanic Heritage night on Thursday with select ticket holders getting a postgame meet-and-greet with Cuban-American goalie Al Montoya.

The team will also offer special food items, including Cuban sandwiches, beef empanadas and arepas at concession stands.

Thursday’s game will also be the first one since 1996 being broadcast on Spanish radio with Arley Londono — who was the Panthers’ original Spanish-language broadcaster from 1993-’96 — and Octavio Sequera on the call.

Fox Sports Florida will also make the radio broadcast available for the first time via the SAP option.

▪ Center Dave Bolland (groin) didn’t practice Wednesday and will be miss his fourth consecutive game Thursday.

Thursday: Coyotes at Panthers

When/where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise.

TV/radio: FSNF; WQAM 560, WMNA 1210 (Spanish).

The series: Arizona leads 15-9-3.

Noteworthy: The Panthers have lost the past four games to Arizona, including Saturday’s 2-1 loss in overtime. Florida gave the Coyotes eight power-play chances with Arizona cashing in on two of its final three.

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