TORONTO (CP) - Mats Sundin's black SUV screeched to a stop in front of the Maple Leafs' practice rink on Thursday to pick up a familiar passenger: Yanic Perreault.
The 35-year-old centre skated in his first practice since being re-acquired at the trade deadline Tuesday. "It feels familiar for me," said Perreault. "I think this is going to be fun." His third tour of duty with Toronto officially beings Friday night when the Leafs play in New Jersey.
Perreault will be on a line between Alexei Ponikarovsky and Jeff O'Neill as head coach Paul Maurice shuffles the deck because of his new arrival.
"Yanic moves the puck a little bit like one of Jeff's old centres in Carolina, Ron Francis," Maurice said in explaining the line formation.
The native of Sherbrooke, Que., last wore a Leaf uniform in 2001 but still has a few of his old teammates around, most notably Sundin, who chauffeured him to the airport after practice.
"I played with Pony before in my second turn around here," Perreault said of Ponikarovsky. "When I walked into the room it wasn't like I didn't know anyone.
"Pony was a little younger the last time I was here though."
Maurice says familiarity is important.
"I think it makes it a lot easier when you have familiar faces in the room," Maurice said. "You have a lot of people you can just ask hockey questions to, system-wise, what we're doing.
"I think you have a tendency of gathering more information about the players that you're playing with. Just a comfort level with the jersey on, you can just go out and play your game and not be concerned about impressing your new teammates and coaches."
Perreault probably would not have believed it had he been told last September how things would turn out for him this season, especially since he was without a team while recovering from abdominal surgery. Next thing you know, he's appearing in his first NHL all-star game.
"If there's one year I didn't expect to go to the all-star game, it was probably this year because I missed the first month of the season," he said. "But I went to Phoenix and Wayne Gretzky was great to me.
"The Coyotes were great to me and my family. Wayne played me a lot and showed a lot of confidence in me."
Perreault's 19 goals are surpassed only by Sundin (26) and O'Neill (20) on the Leafs so his offence will be greatly appreciated. His best talent is faceoffs, as in winning most of them. He once again leads the NHL in faceoff percentage, 62.6 per cent. He's the only regular faceoff man in the league over 60 per cent.
On Monday, the Leafs gave up three goals off lost faceoffs in a 5-4 loss at Montreal, including Sheldon Souray's winning blast on a power play.
"I think speciality-team faceoffs more than anything are critical for zone possession on the power play," said Maurice. "In the nights that we've struggled on our penalty kill, that was something that was part of it.
"Offensively, just to get your players the puck, a shot off the draw and not have to go back and get the puck . . . it's 15 seconds off the clock every time they dump the puck."
Perreault says he watched a lot of video during his early years in Los Angeles to learn how to win faceoffs.
"I used to watch guys like Steve Yzerman, Joe Nieuwendyk, Ron Francis - I learned from watching those guys," he said.
Perreault, earning US$700,000 this season, will be an unrestricted free agent July 1. He said his family will leave Phoenix for Sherbrooke in a few weeks.