The New Jersey Devils reacquired forward Alexei Ponikarovsky from the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday for two draft picks.
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello announced the trade Wednesday night. New Jersey sent a seventh-round draft pick this year and a fourth-round pick in 2014 to Winnipeg to for the player who helped the Devils to an Eastern Conference title last spring.
"He fit in so well for us last year. He played our style and he played in all situations," Lamoriello said in a conference call. "He was a player that played extremely well for us in the playoffs."
The 32-year-old Ponikarovsky had one goal, nine points and 50 hits last postseason, as New Jersey, a No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference, defeated Florida, Philadelphia, and the New York Rangers before losing to Los Angeles in the Stanley Cup final. His tally was an overtime winner in a 4-3 victory over the Flyers, giving New Jersey a 3-1 lead in a second-round series the Devils eventually won in five games.
"I am surprised and excited at the same time," Ponikarovsky said in a conference call from Winnipeg. "I know this team. I know the way they play, and it suits me. The only thing I can do is go out and play the way I played before."
In 12 NHL seasons with Toronto, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Carolina, New Jersey and Winnipeg, Ponikarovsky, a native of Ukraine, has 137 goals and 179 assists in 648 regular-season games. He is viewed, among other things, as insurance for the first-place Devils (8-2-3). New Jersey forward Dainius Zubrus could be out up to two months with a wrist injury. Zubrus, who has one goal and four points, will have exploratory surgery on Thursday.
"That certainly played a factor in us being aggressive," Lamoriello said. "There's a void in the lineup and (Ponikarovsky) is an all-situation player."
Lamoriello, who came to New Jersey in 1987, has often reacquired players, so this is familiar ground. In his tenure with the Devils, which includes five conference titles and three Stanley Cup championships, Lamoriello has brought back such names as Bobby Holik, Claude Lemieux, Stephane Richer, Jason Arnott and Petr Sykora.
In the case of Ponikarovsky, Lamoriello said the Devils this summer had an interest in re-signing him, but were waiting for other players — perhaps former captain Zach Parise, who eventually left New Jersey for Minnesota — to make decisions on their futures. During that period, Ponikarovsky elected to sign with Winnipeg, though he, too, had an interest in staying with New Jersey.
"I probably didn't click in," he said of the Jets (5-6-1), who are in third place in the Southeast Division. "But I appreciated the Winnipeg organization, and I'm happy now to go back to the team I played for last year."
The Devils, coming off just their second regulation loss of the season Tuesday vs. Carolina, will play host to Philadelphia on Friday. Ponikarovsky, who had two goals for the Jets this season, expects to play vs. the Flyers. He will likely arrive Thursday, and practice with the team.
The Jets also acquired forward Eric Tangradi from Pittsburgh for a seventh-round pick this year.