With the 211th selection in the 1999 NHL entry draft, the Toronto Maple
Leafs choose, Vladimir Kulikov.
Those fans who were paying attention at that time said, who? Even some of
the web’s most popular internet sports services listed this choice as
Vladimir Kulkov, a forward playing for CKSA in Russia.
Those fans who read these reports felt that the Maple Leafs had passed on
taking a goaltending prospect for the future, which is a team need as one
looks beyond the Cujo years. Not so, as the amateur scouting department,
then headed by assistant GM, Anders Hedberg, pick up a potentially good one
in young Kulikov.
Kulikov has played for CKSA in Russia, which is the former Red Army
organization. Through the foreign exchange program, he came to North
America and played for the Meadville High School Bulldogs during the 97-98
season in Pennsylvania. He backstopped that team to the state semifinals
with a spectacular season which saw him go 32-6-2 with a microscopic, 1.79
“He was a bit shy at first, but he made the cultural adjustment as well as
the adjustment to the North American style of hockey pretty quickly”,
states his Meadville coach, Jamie Plunkett. “He opened up and really
became an outgoing kid. He knew very little English when he got here, but
he picked up the language quickly and was fine at the end of the year”, he
Even though he entertained ideas of playing in the CHL, Kulikov returned to
Russia to play with the CKSA junior team in 98-99, where he saw action in
30 games. He is participating in the Leafs’ rookie camp and tournament
this week in Kitchener and may see some action with Toronto at the main
camp in Barrie next week. He will most likely play in Russia again this
next season, probably as CKSA’s #1 goaltender, but that final decision has
yet to be made. A promising showing at the Leafs’ rookie camp may go a
long way toward determining where he ends up.
“What stands out with him are three things”, says Plunkett. “His athletic
skills are excellent. He can really skate and his quickness, especially
from side-to-side in the crease, is exceptional. Secondly, he reads the
play very well. On shoot-ins, he doesn’t hesitate, but is out of the
crease to handle the puck, which he does beautifully. Thirdly, his mental
toughness is exceptional as well. On the rare occasions when things
wouldn’t go too well, he always bounced back and never carried a bad play
or bad game over to the next one.”
With great reflexes, Kulikov doesn’t exhibit a classic stand-up or
butterfly style. “You can see that, like most Russian goaltenders, the
influence of Tretiak is very strong. He relies on sound technical skills
with few wasted movements, and his reflexes are just phenomenal. He just
does what it takes to stop the puck”, states Plunkett.
These qualities made their mark on Hedberg as well. “Two things stand out
about Kulikov”, stated Hedberg in an article by Kevin Kleps in The
Meadville Tribune, “The way that he reads the play and that he looks like
“He had a lot to prove coming to North America, but he embraced the play
here very well. He enjoyed the change in culture as well. At 5-10, 165,
he doesn’t have great size, but he knows his way around the nets. He might
have been one of the best puckhandlers on the team that year,” states
“He had a great season for us in 97-98, and has a lot of potential. It’s
hard to say whether he will end up in the NHL, but there is little question
he can and will be a North American professional goaltender. Whether that
is in the AHL, IHL or NHL, only time will tell,” says Plunkett. “High
school hockey is a long-way from the pros, but he certainly has the
combination of physical skills and mental toughness”, he adds.
It is quite a trek from Moscow to Meadville, Pennsylvania, back to Moscow,
to Kitchener, then to Toronto. Where the next stop is will be anyone’s
guess. For a player who has seemingly come out of nowhere to represent his
NHL club, he would probably backstop the Mars’ team if it meant he would
come one step closer to putting on that Maple Leafs’ jersey, permanently.
his time in conducting this interview.
Special thanks to David Agosta, who was instrumental in the development of
Article by Kevin Klepps, June 29, 1999 in The Meadville Tribune