NEWARK, N.J. -- As he was trying to iron out his future back in early February, Marek Zidlicky called his old friend Patrik Elias to get his advice and poll his opinion about how he would fit on the New Jersey Devils and with coach Peter DeBoer. He asked Elias if he could be successful in the style that the Devils play, and what their chances were of having success both this season and next.
It was a conversation Zidlicky felt he had to have with Elias, his friend from back home in the Czech Republic. However, Zidlicky was also asking questions that he already knew the answers to.
"I knew what I was coming to before I came, and it has not surprised me," Zidlicky told NHL.com prior to Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. "That's why I picked this team and I believe in this team."
Zidlicky indeed picked the Devils by waiving his no-trade clause to make way for a deal. Of course, the two general managers, Minnesota's Chuck Fletcher and New Jersey's Lou Lamoriello, then had to come to terms, which they did on Feb. 24 when Zidlicky was sent to the Devils for Kurtis Foster, Nick Palmieri, Stephane Veilleux, a second-round pick in 2012, and a conditional pick in 2013.
At the time it seemed like a high price to pay for a guy who had fallen out of favor in Minnesota.
Now the Devils feel they got a steal.
Zidlicky has been one of the underrated stars on this Devils team that is one win away from the Stanley Cup Final heading into Game 6 Friday at Prudential Center (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS). He is averaging over 24 minutes per game in the playoffs and has eight points on a goal and seven assists. His offense has rubbed off on his defense partner, Bryce Salvador, who has three goals and eight assists in the playoffs.
Beyond the numbers, Zidlicky has been an invaluable asset on the Devils power play and in their aggressive 5-on-5 game -- so much so that DeBoer said, "We wouldn't be here without him."
Counting the 22 games Zidlicky played for the Devils in the regular season and the 17 playoff games, New Jersey is 24-13-2 since the trade.
"(It's) tough to really identify how important it is adding a No. 1, No. 2 defenseman to your lineup at a critical time of the year," DeBoer said. "He's been invaluable. I think it was a great trade that Lou made identifying him, and paying the price to go get him. It looked like a heavy price to pay, but he's been worth it every bit and more."
Elias admitted he told Zidlicky there would have been times when his advice would be to look elsewhere. That was when the Devils, with their defensive style and conservative coaching staff, weren't right for him.
However, under DeBoer they are an aggressive forechecking team that encourages defensemen to join the play. Elias knew it would work.
"With Pete and the coaching staff that we have, I thought he was going to fit perfectly in the style that we play," Elias said. "Playing with the right players, the right situation, the right style of hockey can go a long way."
Zidlicky didn't have that in Minnesota, and it was hurting him. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, he constantly butted heads with Wild coach Mike Yeo about the aggressiveness with which he plays. Yeo made him a healthy scratch for three straight games after Zidlicky was a minus-5 in back-to-back lopsided losses at Philadelphia and at Toronto.
Zidlicky aired his problems publicly in an article that appeared in the Jan. 31 edition of the Star-Tribune. Yeo didn't like that one bit, and it's believed to be right around then or shortly after that Zidlicky asked to be traded.
"Of course, yeah," Zidlicky said when asked if he was more than just mildly frustrated with how things were unfolding in Minnesota, "but that's why I asked for a trade and that's what happened. I know I can play hockey that I like and I do now. I wasn't happy there."
He's happy in New Jersey, and the Devils are thrilled to have him.
"The thing about Zidlicky is he's multi-dimensional," DeBoer said. "He's not just offensive or a power-play guy. This guy can do a little bit of everything. He plays in your top two. He can play 25 minutes a game. He can play against top players in the League and defend and compete in the zone end, and he can also run your power play. There are only a handful of those guys in the League."
Foster isn't one of them, which is partly why the trade worked so well for New Jersey. It was a necessity, according to captain Zach Parise, who also noted that the Devils' power-play numbers got better with Zidlicky in the lineup.
They were 16.5 percent (33-for-200) on the power play in 60 games without Zidlicky; they were 19.4 percent (13-for-67) in 22 games with him. They have struggled with the man-advantage against the Rangers (2-for-20), but the Devils were 9-for-43 (20.9 percent) in the first two rounds.
"Foster did a really good job for us, and I think Zid was more of an upgrade," Parise said. "He's not as much of a shooter as Foster, but he's a really good passer. No disrespect to Foster at all, because he did really well for us, but I think Zid, again, has that skating ability and he adds a little more 5-on-5 than Foster did."
For his part, Zidlicky couldn't be happier to be a Devil and to play for DeBoer. He is signed through next season, too.
"I like to play offensively. I like what we're doing with the puck," he said. "We don't just throw the puck somewhere -- we try to play with the puck, each guy, and make plays to open up other guys. That's good."
But he knew that would be the case all along. He just needed some reassurance on it from his old pal Elias.
"He's not talked about much," Elias said, "but he's been a big help to this team."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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