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Kulikov set to help Sabres rattle

Buffalo eyeing defenseman in top-four role after trade with Florida

by Cutler Klein @CutlerKlein / Staff Writer

In seven NHL seasons, defenseman Dmitry Kulikov had grown used to one way of life in the League.

That changed when he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres by the Florida Panthers for defenseman Mark Pysyk and the 38th and 39th picks of the 2016 NHL Draft on Saturday.

"Being with the same organization for seven years, you feel like you're on an island," Kulikov said Tuesday. "You know one thing. Every other organization is kind of unknown.

"It's exciting. I was feeling nervous and had some butterflies in my stomach. I think it's going to be good. Change is sometimes for the best. Whatever happens, happens for a reason. Maybe I was meant to end up in Buffalo."

Video: Sabres Acquire Kulikov and a pick from Florida

Kulikov, 25, had one goal and 16 points in 74 regular-season games and four points in six Stanley Cup Playoff games. He was part of a young defense in Florida that included Aaron Ekblad and Erik Gudbranson. But that started to change when Gudbranson was traded to the Vancouver Canucks on May 25, and veteran Keith Yandle was acquired in a trade with the New York Rangers and signed to a seven-year contract.

Kulikov said he did not think the Yandle trade spelled the end of his time with the Panthers, and it wasn't until the draft that he started thinking he might be on the move.

"Initially I was glad that Florida got another defenseman that was going to help out with our offense," Kulikov said. "When the draft came I thought that something might go down. I was comfortable in Florida. I didn't think that something like that was going to happen but it did. It's part of the business. I'm excited for the future."

Sabres general manager Tim Murray said Saturday that Buffalo will look for Kulikov to be one of its top four defensemen, likely playing alongside Rasmus Ristolainen on the top pair. Kulikov said he hasn't spoken to Murray or coach Dan Bylsma yet, but he's ready for the challenge.

"I think I just want to help out in any way possible," Kulikov said. "Whatever role they have for me. The top-four defenseman role is a very prestigious one and I'm happy to be that guy and I'm happy to take on that responsibility. As I've proven in Florida, I've played against top lines. I felt like I really picked up my game at the end of this season and going into the playoffs. I can be a shut-down guy and I can be productive."

The Sabres haven't reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2011. Kulikov said he hopes to bring the thrill and excitement of playoff hockey back to Buffalo.

"I think every year in the NHL you start over and you don't even know what's going to happen," he said. "Looking at Buffalo, playing against them, they have a really strong group of forwards that are really hard to play against and have a lot of skill. If I can help out with the defensive core in any way I can and get the puck up to the forwards, I think we're going to have a very successful year."

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