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Defenceman Dmitry Kulikov signs 3-year deal to stay with Florida Panthers

Last winter wasn't very good for the Florida Panthers.

This summer, however, has gone largely according to their plan.

The Panthers crossed another item off their off-season to-do list on Friday, signing defenceman Dmitry Kulikov to a three-year deal. Financial details weren't released. TSN reported the contract will pay the former first-round pick $13 million over those three seasons.

"He's got so much ability," Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said on a conference call. "It's time for him now to make a statement and be a leader on our team. He's got all the ability in the world. It's now just a matter of channeling it in the right direction. We're happy to have him in the fold. He's a great kid. He's still a young guy with tremendous ability. Hard to find those guys."

Kulikov turns 24 on Oct. 29. He's spent each of his first five NHL seasons with the Panthers, with 24 goals and 75 assists in 313 games. He logged the second-most minutes for the Panthers this past season and was a regular on Florida's power-play and penalty-kill units.

Kulikov set career bests this past season with 81 games played, eight goals and 66 penalty minutes.

Friday's move wraps up a whirlwind month for the Panthers, who hired a new coach in Gerard Gallant, had the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft and went on a bit of a spending spree when the free-agent period opened July 1. The Panthers handed out more than $60 million in contract value that day alone, signing six players when free agency opened including Stanley Cup-winning defenceman Willie Mitchell along with centres Dave Bolland and Jussi Jokinen.

They also kept defenceman Erik Gudbranson and now with Kulikov, the defenceman rotation for this coming season appears pretty much set.

"We like our team," Tallon said. "We like what happened July 1. We pretty well hit everything that we wanted to hit on, addressed a lot of needs, brought in a lot of character. We brought in champions and good solid pros who are going to show our young guys the way. So overall, it's been a great month for us."

The Panthers finished 29th in the 30-team in NHL with 66 points last season and have not won a playoff series since going to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1996.

But Tallon is optimistic that much will change in a hurry.

"Our future looks very bright," Tallon said. "So does the present."

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