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Trade Coverage

Sabres acquire defenseman Kulikov from Panthers

Buffalo also gets second-round pick, trades defenseman Pysyk, two draft choices to Florida

by Joe Yerdon / Correspondent

BUFFALO -- The Buffalo Sabres acquired defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and the 33rd pick in the 2016 NHL Draft from the Florida Panthers on Saturday in a trade for defenseman Mark Pysyk and picks Nos. 38 and 89.

The Sabres used the 33rd pick, the third choice in the second round, to select Swedish center Rasmus Asplund. The Panthers selected left wing Adam Mascherin from Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League with pick No. 38 and Sweden defenseman Linus Nassen with No. 89.

Kulikov, 25, was the Panthers' first-round pick in 2009 (No. 14), spent seven seasons with Florida, and had 28 goals and 138 points. He had one goal and 17 points in 74 games this season.

"We certainly like [Kulikov] as a player," Sabres general manager Tim Murray said. "We did a lot of video scouting at the end of the year on him. We watched their six playoff games, other than knowing him well and watching him since he was in Drummondville and our pro scouting staff since he's been in the National [Hockey] League. We like him as a player. We have a need for a left-shot [defenseman]. He had an outstanding playoff for them; I thought he was their best [defenseman] in the six games they played against the Islanders."

Kulikov had a goal and three assists for the Panthers in a six-game Eastern Conference First Round loss to the New York Islanders.

Video: Sabres Acquire Kulikov and a pick from Florida

Murray has been looking to acquire a top-four left-handed defenseman since he was hired by the Sabres in January 2014.

"I don't know if he's a pure 1 or a 1-A [defenseman]," Murray said. "I mean, [Rasmus Ristolainen] is our 1, so he would be 2. We're going to find out, but he's certainly a strong top-four [defenseman]. I think he just makes us better. He's a guy that we've liked. I remember talking to (Panthers president of hockey operations) Dale Tallon about him, certainly when I first got here, and we talked about it when I was [with the Ottawa Senators]. He's a good player. I like guys that are honest, I like guys that are hard to play against, I certainly like guys that can make a tape-to-tape pass, and with our forwards, I think if he can make a tape-to-tape pass, good things are going to happen in transition with the skill and speed we already have here, so he's just a great fit."

Pysyk, 24, had five goals and 26 points in four seasons with the Sabres and had strong puck-possession numbers with a 51.54 shots-attempted percentage (SAT%) this season.

"You know, it's not an easy decision when you're trading a guy like [Kulikov] away," Panthers general manager Tom Rowe said. "Part of it was [salary-cap] management going into next year, and then we really wanted to get a right-shot defenseman, and Mark Pysyk was a guy we had targeted a long time ago and watched him quite a bit through the last couple of seasons. We just felt when we picked up [Keith] Yandle on the left side with a left shot, we wanted to find a guy that had potential to be top-four [defense]. He might not be the top-four this year, but we think he can be there in a couple of years. The fact that he's a right shot, he's a very composed player, a very smart player … we thought he was a real good fit for the guys we have on the back end."

The Panthers signed Yandle to a seven-year contract on Thursday after getting him in a trade with the New York Rangers.

A key part to the trade Saturday was the Sabres' ability to swap second-round picks with the Panthers to move up to select Asplund. Murray identified Asplund as a first-round talent who slipped into the second.

"Being able to do the flop of seconds certainly made our Swedish scout happy and our head scout happy," Murray said. "Happy scouts, happy life."

Asplund was the No. 4 ranked European skater by NHL Central Scouting behind first-round picks Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi. Asplund was a Sweden teammate of Sabres 2016 first-round pick Alexander Nylander (No. 8) at the 2016 World Junior Championship.

"We played World Juniors on the same line and had really good chemistry there," Asplund said. "To have the opportunity to still play and play together for a couple years now will be awesome. I'm really happy to have Alex in this organization too and I think he is too. I'm just so happy right now."

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