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Devils Trade Still Worth It? Former Defenseman Headed to Stanley Cup Final

Dmitry Kulikov and the Florida Panthers are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final. The Russian-born defenseman was once traded away by the New Jersey Devils. Was it worth it?

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The New Jersey Devils traded Dmitry Kulikov away in 2021. He's now headed back to the Stanley Cup Final. // Photo courtesy of Florida Hockey Now

Dmitry Kulikov never wanted to leave the Florida Panthers. The Cats drafted the Russian-born defenseman in the first round of the 2009 NHL Draft, 14th overall. If you blinked you probably missed it, but 11 years later the defenseman was a member of the New Jersey Devils in the 2020-21 season. A Devils trade saw Kulikov move on from New Jersey quickly. Now, he’s headed to the Stanley Cup Final with the team he started his career with.

“To be honest, I never wanted to leave in the first place,” Kulikov told Florida Hockey Now back in October.

“I always wanted to come back here, it just did not work out. When the opportunity opened up this summer, I did not want to go anywhere else. I am happy. I am really happy.”

The Panthers traded Kuliokov to the Buffalo Sabres back in June of 2016, in exchange for defenseman Mark Pysyk and two draft picks at the 2016 NHL Draft. The defenseman then had a three-year stint with the Winnipeg Jets and in the summer of 2020, he signed with the Devils on a one-year, $1.15 million contract via free agency.

Kulikov only lasted 38 games in New Jersey, collecting two assists and 26 penalty minutes, before a Devils trade sent him to the Edmonton Oilers for a conditional 2022 fourth-round draft pick.

The Oilers didn’t make it out of the first round in 2021, thus finalizing the Devils receiving a 2022 fourth-round pick rather than a third via the condition. Kulikov dressed in three out of four games with the Oilers in the playoffs.

Kulikov has bounced around a bunch since then, skating for the Minnesota Wild, Anaheim Ducks, and Pittsburgh Penguins before ultimately ending up back in Florida.

The Russian defenseman’s best years were always with the Panthers, however, he seemingly regained his form with the Wild and brought that presence back to Florida in his eventual return.

Kulikov now mans the Panthers’ third pair on the blue line next to Oliver Ekman-Larsson. In 76 regular season games this past season, Kulikov contributed a goal and 20 points and is a key contributor to a defensive group who specializes in shot suppression.

That style of play for Kulikov and the Panthers’ blue line has translated well to the postseason style of play, thus, punching their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final once more.

Still, the Devils trade sending Kulikov to the Oilers back in 2021 was worth it. New Jersey finished the season seventh in the Metropolitan Division with a 27-46-11 record, missing the playoffs for the fourth consecutive postseason. The Devils loaded up on talent in the 2022 NHL Draft, taking Simon Nemec second overall, Seamus Casey in the second round, and with the pick they received from Edmonton, New Jersey selected defenseman Charlie Leddy.

Leddy remains unsigned by the Devils as he continues his development at the NCAA level.

The 20-year-old American-born defenseman helped claim the NCAA Hockey East Championship with Boston College this past season. In the 2023-24, Leddy collected two goals and seven points in 35 games.

He has since transferred to Quinnipiac University and will play in Hamden, Connecticut next season.

Leddy hasn’t exactly piled up the points, however, the 6-foot-2 defenseman has shown upside according to EP Rinkside.

“Leddy’s best when resetting or delaying. He cuts back or away from pressure, then circles the net and tries a different lane. In-tight, he makes quick plays off the backhand to the inside. On retrievals, those same skills enabled him to escape with possession on a team-high 79.4 percent pressured attempts.

“Then, there are the flashes of activation instincts, playmaking, and play-killing. In a different environment, perhaps these flashes become key parts of Leddy’s game. There’s upside here, despite the point totals.”

Even if the Leddy never makes it to the NHL, the Devils trade by New Jersey is one they make 10/10 times. Kulikov just wasn’t the player he is when he played in Florida, and the Devils — at the time — needed to draft as much talent as they could, whether they play for the Devils or are utilized as an asset for trade.

Kulikov is a player Devils fans can root for as a former defenseman in New Jersey. Leddy is also a player Devils fans can root for with the hopes that he develops into something. Even if he doesn’t, re-writing Kulikov’s short history with New Jersey seems fruitless. Kulikov wasn’t saving the Devils’ frustrating 2021-22 season and the team exploded without him in 2022-23.

If you can get something for a player on an expiring contract who you know won’t be returning, you do it. And that’s exactly what the Devils did. Revisionist history doesn’t change anything in this deal. In fact, it would have been silly for the Devils to have not made the trade when they did.

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