The last time Steve Sullivan suited up as a Devil – Feb. 20, 1997 – Star Wars
was the top movie at the box office, Michael Jordan was in the midst of his second three-peat with the Chicago Bulls, and a gallon of gas cost $1.22.
Now, after 16 years and 45 days, Sullivan is back where he made his NHL debut. The 38-year-old veteran of 1,002 games will skate on the Devils' top line tonight when the Toronto Maple Leafs visit Prudential Center.
"It's hard to believe it's gone by so quickly," said Sullivan, who was acquired from Phoenix at Wednesday's trade deadline for a seventh-round pick in 2014. "To come back full circle to where it all began is not something you think about, but when I got the call [about the trade] and it was coming back to New Jersey it was very nice to hear."
Sullivan will reunite with former Albany River Rat linemate Patrik Elias on a trio centered by Andrei Loktionov. Together, they were members of the Devils' 1994 draft class: Elias in the second round, 51st overall; Sullivan in the ninth round, 233rd overall.
"It's been a long time, but exciting," Sullivan said. "Obviously to be able to play with a player of his skill is going to be good. I'm very excited about the opportunity to play with him again."
When Sullivan first broke into the League on Feb. 23, 1996, the Devils were first-time defending Stanley Cup champs. Now a season removed from its fifth trip to the Final, the club hopes Sullivan can inject some energy into this year's playoff push.
"I remember actually watching him play junior hockey in Sault Ste. Marie at the beginning of my coaching career," head coach Peter DeBoer said. "He's always been a dynamic player that brings some special talents to the table, so I'm excited to work with him."
Sullivan had five goals, seven assists in 33 games with Phoenix this season, though his top line role reflects DeBoer's belief in his offensive upside.
"Speed, skill, work ethic, competitiveness," DeBoer said when asked what Sullivan can contribute. "You don't play in the NHL at his size for as long as he's played without one, being dynamic and two, having a big set, so to speak."
Elias also expects Sullivan's creativity to provide a boost. Sullivan becomes the 24th player to be re-acquired and play for the Devils.
"I've watched him play, I played against him last year when he was in Pittsburgh, and he did a great job with those guys," Elias said. "[He] controlled the power play, he's very skilled with the puck, and we have to play that way. Our lines, especially the way we're set up today, we've got to try to hold on to it, make plays, try to be on the move. Hopefully we can create some good opportunities out there."
Projected lines for April 6 vs. Toronto:
Patrik Elias - Andrei Loktionov - Steve Sullivan
Dainius Zubrus - Travis Zajac - David Clarkson
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Adam Henrique - Matt D'Agostini
Ryan Carter - Stephen Gionta - Steve Bernier
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Henrik Tallinder - Peter Harrold