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Kulikov adds much-needed defensive heft to Wild's lineup

Veteran blueliner will add 725 games of NHL experience to club's defensive corps

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

ST. PAUL -- Dmitry Kulikov was a named discussed early and often by the Wild front office at the start of free agency on Wednesday morning.

It took some time, and a little patience, but late in the day on Wednesday, the Wild got its man, inking the veteran defenseman to a two-year, $4.5 million contract ($2.25 million AAV).

Kulikov will add some size and a strong defensive presence on the Wild's third pairing for the upcoming season, as Minnesota continues its remodel on the back end.

Out are Ryan Suter, Carson Soucy, Ian Cole and Brad Hunt, and in are Kulikov and Alex Goligoski, as well as another veteran, Jon Merrill, signed Thursday to a one-year contract himself.

The deals allow for plenty of flexibility moving forward as the Wild navigates its own salary cap crunch the next few seasons, while also allowing for maximum opportunity in the future for young players like Calen Addison, Ryan O'Rourke and Daemon Hunt, as well as recent first-round pick Carson Lambos.

Kulikov will serve as the bridge to some of those younger players, allowing them to finish their junior hockey careers and continue on their professional journeys with the Iowa Wild.

Video: Dmitry Kulikov on signing with the Minnesota Wild

He also brings some much needed size and muscle to the backend. While Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba are a terrific foundation to build on, the Wild desperately needed some added size and grit to that group.

Kulikov certainly brings that.

"I've played in the league for a long time now," Kulikov said. "I like to think of myself a two-way defenseman. I do like defend but I also do like to move the puck and jump up on the rush."

The 30-year-old from Lipetsk, Russia, has skated in 725 NHL games over his career with the Florida Panthers, Buffalo Sabres, Winnipeg Jets, New Jersey Devils and Edmonton Oilers.

A first-round pick of the Panthers in 2009, Kulikov entered the league with some offensive upside, but has developed into more of a defensive presence in recent years. He posted just four assists in 48 games between the Devils and Oilers last season, but his defensive metrics were strong.

As a veteran, he also understands what his role will be here, and that's exactly why the Wild wanted to bring him in. 

"Since I came into the league I was a young player, 18 years old, and I had much to learn. But over the years I feel like with the experience you learn the defensive part of the game and responsibility and the role on the team. It all comes together with years of experience," Kulikov said. "You just kind of understand what the team needs to win and sometimes you have to adjust to what the team needs." 

In a marketplace flush with defensive options, Kulikov was the target of several teams, having offers from nearly a half dozen suitors. 

But in the end, the two-year commitment from Minnesota as well as the opportunity to join a playoff team and one that seems to be on the rise won out for him.

"We just considered the offers I've been getting and I felt like Minnesota would be the right fit for me at this stage in my career now. It was a two-year deal and I was very excited when [Wild GM Bill Guerin] called me and expressed big interest. That was very flattering," Kulikov said. "It's always exciting when a team wants to have you in the lineup. That's obviously a big selling point. They were very excited and that made my decision easier. I'm very excited to come and join the team."


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