It's been a while now that Sabres General Manager Tim Murray has been talking about acquiring a young, left-handed defenseman. It turns out Dmitry Kulikov was one of the players he had in mind all along, and pulled the trigger on a trade that was weeks in the making to begin Day 2 of the NHL Draft.
Murray acquired Kulikov and the No. 33 pick in the Draft in exchange for Mark Pysyk and picks No. 38 and 89 to the Florida Panthers. He'd always known Kulikov as a player, but came away particularly impressed from watching his performance in six playoff games last season.
"We've got a guy that we think is a five or a five-plus in our ratings," Murray said. "You watch Florida when they go on the PK; he was the first guy on the ice, when they needed a goal on the playoffs he was on the ice, when they needed to protect a lead late in the game he was on the ice so we certainly liked what we saw."
While he said it's up to coach Dan Bylsma to ultimately decide where he'll play, Murray expressed belief that Kulikov can play on the top pair alongside Rasmus Ristolainen. The Sabres also have Jake McCabe and Josh Gorges to play the left and Zach Bogosian and Cody Franson to play the right, while prospects such as Brendan Guhle or Casey Nelson could eventually factor in as well.
Kulikov, 25, scored 17 points (1+16) in 74 games and average 21:02 of ice time last season for Florida. Murray believes he has a bit more to add defensively, but his true value lies in his defensive reliability and the grit he brings to the ice.
"You look at his skating ability, he's a good skater, adds that to our team," Bylsma said. "But he plays with an edge. He's got a high compete to his game and you see that almost every time you watch him play. He brings it unequivocally with his play every night."