MOSCOW, August 5 (R-Sport) - Former New Jersey Devils forward Alexei Ponikarovsky has signed a two-year contract with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL, the Russian team said Monday.
The move reunites Ponikarovsky with Russian forward Ilya Kovalchuk; they played together for the Devils last season before Kovalchuk moved to SKA.
“He’s a big, physically strong player. There’s no doubt he’ll add power and strong pressure to SKA’s offense,” the team’s general manager, Alexei Kasatonov, said in a website statement.
Ponikarovsky, who already holds Ukrainian and Canadian passports, has “expressed the desire” to take Russian nationality, which would help SKA with the KHL’s nationality restrictions, Kasatonov said.
Ponikarovsky, known as the “Poni Express,” has scored 323 points in 678 NHL games since joining the league with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2000. During last year’s NHL lockout, he played for the sole Ukrainian KHL team, Donbass Donetsk.
He is an unrestricted free agent under NHL rules, following the end of his Devils contract.
SKA, which is funded by Russian state gas company Gazprom, has spent heavily in recent seasons to capture a first KHL title but has yet to get beyond the Western Conference finals.
The team’s capture of Kovalchuk last month was widely hailed as the first time a leading NHL player in his prime had moved to the Russia-based KHL, outside of the lockout.
SKA has signed 10 players so far in the off-season, including Calgary Flames center Roman Cervenka.
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Any response would likely boomerang on Russia – the partnership between Rosneft and ExxonMobil is a case in point. The United States has hit Russia with a third round of sanctions. This time the Americans went with a higher caliber weapon, targeting Russia’s biggest energy companies (Rosneft and Novatek) and banks (VEB and Gazprombank).