There were no nerves for Dmitry Kulikov. New team. New systems. New teammates and coaches.
The 25-year-old Russian defenseman was late arriving to Buffalo Sabres camp after playing for Team Russia in the World Cup of Hockey. But in his first practice with his new team, Kulikov was more eager than anxious.
"No not at all," Kulikov said when asked if he was nervous skating with his new teammates for the first time in KeyBank Center Wednesday morning. "Just like another practice. It's good.
"The training camps are the same in all 30 teams I guess. It’s just the personnel that’s different. As soon as I get to know everyone in the locker room it will be an easy adjustment."
The Sabres traded for Kulikov at the NHL Draft in June, swapping draft picks and sending defenseman Mark Pysyk to the Florida Panthers.
Kulikov spent his first seven NHL seasons with the Panthers, collecting 138 points (28 goals, 110 assists) in 460 career games. More importantly for the Sabres, he's a left-handed shot and a defenseman who likes to hit.
"He’s definitely hard to play against because he’s looking to hit," said Sabres forward Tyler Ennis. "He’s a left-handed shot, which we needed, and I'm looking forward to having him in the lineup. He was a good World Cup player and we're happy to have him."
Kulikov played all four games for Russia in the World Cup of Hockey, losing in the semifinal to Team Canada on Sept. 24.
Although he arrived late to Sabres camp, Kulikov already felt a bit ahead of the curve in terms of being game-ready. He already is game-ready. There's no rust to shake off.
"Having gone through the full camp with Team Russia and playing and practicing with the best players in the NHL, it does help a lot," Kulikov said with a laugh. "There’s no secret there. Just feels like I’m more ready, more prepared, more in game shape and sharper on the ice."
His business now is getting to know his teammates and coaches and learning coach Dan Bylsma's system.
"Just needed a little adjustment to come back and hit the reset switch and get right into the training camp," Kulikov said. "First practice is out of the way. I’m learning the system now. A lot of video. Getting to know the guys around the locker room. Mostly just getting to know everything new."
In his first practice with the team he already impressed Bylsma.
"You see Dmitry out there, his commanding presence and skating ability," Bylsma said. He heard a "couple comments that the ability of the D-man to get the puck up to the forwards improved today with Dmitry. That's good to see."
Fighting for one of the open forward spots at camp is second-year pro Evan Rodrigues. The forward, who played with Jack Eichel at Boston University, made his NHL debut at the end of last season. He notched a goal and an assist in two games for the Sabres while scoring 30 points (nine goals, 21 assists) in 72 games with the Rochester Americans.
"The end of the year was obviously good, getting my couple games and scoring my first goal. That was exciting," said the 23-year-old. "I worked a lot on my shot this summer, my speed this summer. Those are areas I think I needed the biggest improvements with. Those are areas I put a lot of emphasis on and I’m excited to show that off."
Two preseason games in and what has Bylsma learned about his team?
"The game we should have won we lost and the game we probably shouldn’t have won we won," Bylsma said,noting the first and third periods against the Minnesota Wild Monday at Penn State was "more the type we’d like to play and want to play" while Tuesday's night's win against Ottawa saw the Sabres "on the receiving end for quite a bit of the game.
"You can see the difference in the lineups in preseason in the different games and different matchups," Bylsma said before praising starting goalie Robin Lehner. "The one thing you can draw from the game," Tuesday night, "is if that’s the way our goaltender plays for us we’re going to have a lot of success. He was commanding in the net. … He played outstanding in the game."
Bylsma noted that Kulikov could possibly be in Friday's lineup when the Sabres host Toronto at KeyBank Center. Jack Eichel, however, likely will not play this week.