These days, the former Sabres form the upstart Jets’ strong No. 2 defense pair. But four months ago, no one knew what to expect from the 27-year-old veterans.
Kulikov was coming off a miserable season in which a lower-back bruise he suffered in his debut limited him to 47 games. Meanwhile, groin and hip problems forced Myers out of all but 11 contests.
“We put them together because they were kind of the two unknowns,” Maurice said this morning after the Jets prepared for the Sabres.
Kulikov and Myers, who will play his first game as a visitor tonight at KeyBank Center, have quietly morphed into two terrific comeback stories.
“We communicate a lot, not only on the ice but off the ice,” Myers said. “We try to figure out ways we can be better as a pair. Even when I came in the league, that’s been a huge part of developing chemistry with who you’re playing with.”
Kulikov was supposed to play beside Rasmus Ristolainen in 2016-17, his only season with the Sabres. Instead, he moved around the lineup, even getting scratched as he battled his back injury and compiled a ghastly minus-26 rating.
After arriving via a trade from Florida, the Russian never fit well in Buffalo. Still, his body of work with the Panthers was strong enough to earn him a three-year, $12.990 million contract from the Jets in free agency.
“Pretty tough with the injuries, not playing up to my full capabilities,” Kulikov said of last season. “Obviously, things are different this year. It’s fun to play hockey again.”
Kulikov said he felt “as comfortable as I could be” a year ago.
“It was a tough situation the whole year,” he said. “I was just doing everything to be a professional.”
Through 41 appearances, Kulikov has compiled as many goals (two) as last season while doubling his point total (10). His rating has also improved to plus-6.
Myers, meanwhile, with five goals and 22 points through 43 contests, is on pace for his first 40-point season since his Calder Trophy campaign in 2009-10.
“I feel good, for sure,” Myers said. “It helps being on (this) team.”
At 25-11-7, the Jets are one of the NHL’s biggest surprises this season.
“Whether we’re up one, down one, whether we get scored on at a bad time, we continue on the same path, we don’t try to open the game up,” Myers said. “I think that’s been a huge part of our success.”
Buffalo, however, will always hold a special place in Myers’ heart.
“A lot of good memories,” he said. “It was a fun city to play in, we had a really good group of guys. There’s not many there anymore. It was fun. I really enjoyed my time here.”
Only seven Sabres in tonight’s lineup played with Myers, including winger Jason Pominville, who returned to Buffalo in June after five seasons in Minnesota.
“That’ll be strange for sure,” Myers said of seeing Pominville back. “When I saw that move this past summer, it was weird just knowing he was going back to Buffalo. He was always a great teammate and I had a lot of fun playing with him.”