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Salmela eager for return stint with Devils

by Mike G. Morreale
NEWARK, N.J.  -- Newsflash. There was another player acquired by the New Jersey Devils on Thursday evening who shouldn't be forgotten.

Defenseman Anssi Salmela (6-foot-1, 200 pounds), who was also part of the Ilya Kovalchuk trade with the Atlanta Thrashers, is actually rejoining the Devils after spending nearly one full season in Atlanta.

Salmela had 5 points and a plus-4 rating in 29 games with the Thrashers this season. He was originally signed by New Jersey as a free agent on May 30, 2008, after spending several seasons in his native Finland.

He's obviously excited to be back in New Jersey, and feels Kovalchuk will have a major impact on his old/new team.

"I'm not at the same (dressing room) stall as I was my first season in Jersey, but it's really nice to come back," Salmela told "Everyone is going to love Kovy. I think he might have to change part of his game, but I think New Jersey needs a player like him. He's so good at finishing. I think once he gets used to playing with the guys, he'll be a huge weapon."

Jacques Lemaire wasn't coaching Salmela when he last appeared in a Devils jersey -- during the 2008-09 campaign when Brent Sutter was at the helm. But he has already watched and assessed video of his new defenseman.

"I saw Sammy a little bit on tape and I think he's going to fit well," Lemaire said. "He's mobile, has a decent shot and can move the puck. He has that offensive ability that he could bring at different times -- which we need, obviously. I think to really get a good view of this guy, though, I'd have to wait a little longer to see him play and see what he does."

Salmela played 17 games with the Devils last season, notching 3 assists and a plus-1 rating with 6 penalty minutes.

He expects Kovalchuk to warm up to his teammates right away.

"Off the ice, he's a fun guy to have around," Salmela said. "He's very funny. He likes to joke around, but, on the ice, he really wants to win and that's a good thing for this organization -- especially knowing how many times they've been in the playoffs.

"Now it's good for Kovy because he's won on the international level so many times," he continued. "He knows how to win but just never got that chance in Atlanta."

Kovalchuk did receive one opportunity to strut his stuff in the postseason -- in the spring of 2007, when his team was swept in four games by the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Kovalchuk did manage 1 goal and 2 points in the series, but that's all one of the League's most dynamic goal scorers has to show for during the NHL playoffs.

"It'll be good for him," Salmela said. "The change has happened and now we both can start battling for wins to help this team."

Salmela was actually enjoying dinner in Washington at the time he and Kovalchuk got word that a trade had been made between the Thrashers and Devils. When the deal was made official, he met with Kovalchuk and they briefly discussed their destination.

"I didn't have time to tell him much as everything was so crazy," Salmela said. "I told him about the organization and what was going on when I was here. I told him basic stuff -- how the trainers and coaches take care of the players so long as you play hard. I told him what you can and cannot do.

"Really, though, this team is making the playoffs and it's a really good team," he added. "We have a good chance to win the Cup, so we're both pretty excited."

Contact Mike Morreale at

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