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Who is Alexei Ponikarovsky?

Yay, we got bigger!  But, did we get better?
Yay, we got bigger! But, did we get better?

There are few players who've gone through a more-complex transaction wringer than Alexei Ponikarovsky the last few years, as he's bounced around from the Toronto Maple Leafs, to the Pittsburgh Penguins, to the Los Angeles Kings, to the Carolina Hurricanes, to the New Jersey Devils, and now finally to the Winnipeg Jets, all in about three years. Before he added about fifty stickers to his luggage, he was a respected, big-bodied goal scorer with three 20+ goal seasons on his resume and nearly two more. Now 32 years old, the hype ship has pretty much sailed, but I'm of the belief that there's still value left in the 6'4", 220 pounder, although it kind of sucks that it could come at the expense of guys like Patrice Cormier and Carl Klingberg. More discussion on that in a bit.

Ze Numbers

Alexei Ponikarovsky

Left Wing / Winnipeg Jets



Apr 09, 1980 - Kiev, USSR (Ukraine)

Season Tm GP 5v5 TOI 5v4 4v5 5v5 QoC 5v5 CRel Z% 5v5 G/60 A/60 PTS/60
07-08 TOR 66 6 6 8 12 1 55.5 1.21 0.70 1.91
08-09 TOR 82 5 6 7 4 1 53.7 1.05 1.69 2.74
09-10 TOR/PIT 77 5 3 9 1 2 54.7 0.96 1.32 2.27
10-11 LAK 61 9 8 7 8 7 52.1 0.37 0.74 1.11
11-12 CAR 82 7 7 9 3 1 46.8 0.51 0.90 1.41

8 8 9 4 1

The first five metric columns are ranks among his team's forwards who played 20+ games; in seasons where he played most of his games with one of the teams, I ranked him among that team. In 2011-12, he split his season pretty evenly, so I provided the ranks on either team.

Those 5v5 scoring numbers sufficed to regularly place him in the top 50-60 forwards at even-strength while he was in Toronto, in other words good enough to be an average 1st liner or above-average 2nd liner. Despite this, he's never been treated like a top-line player, whether it was due to depth chart or performance issues I'm not sure.

The most intriguing thing to me is that, outside of what looks like a lost year in Los Angeles (where the Kings did not seem committed to giving him quality playing time), he has been a remarkably effective player at 5v5, turning in team-high Corsi Rel's all over the place.

So, what's the damage, where does he fit, and was it worth it?

The damage is $1.8 million for next year, which I think is fair for his career to this point and his underlying numbers. In terms of where he fits, things get a bit tricky; he's almost exclusively a left winger, so that immediately keeps him out of the top two lines. As suggested by the recent Fan Shot, he and Nik Antropov are pretty good buddies, so logically speaking you can expect them to play the third line together. With Tanner Glass sent packing to Pittsburgh, this suggests that one of our young guys, either Patrice Cormier or Carl Klingberg (or even Ivan Telegin later in the season) could slot into that 4th line LW. My hunch is that Jim Slater will get a bump to the 3rd line, with Antro on the right wing, which could make for a pretty nifty group at even-strength. In other words, this is what I'm envisioning:

  1. Andrew Ladd --- Bryan Little --- Blake Wheeler
  2. Evander Kane --- ??? --- Alexander Burmistrov
  3. Alexei Ponikarovsky --- Jim Slater --- Nik Antropov
  4. Carl Klingberg --- Patrice Cormier --- Chris Thorburn
On the other hand, some of you might recall that it seemed that Antro and Burmi had good chemistry last year, which would suggest a breakdown like this:
  1. Ladd --- Little --- Wheeler
  2. Kane --- Antro --- Burmi
  3. Poni --- Slater --- Thorburn (cringe)
  4. Klingberg --- Cormier --- Spencer Machacek
In other words, the exaggerated "success" of GST spills over into a PST or something. I won't like that, and Poni would be absolutely screwed by it, but I could definitely see that happening.

For the last question: Was it worth it? I'm going to say yes, definitely. We added a proven quality 5v5 forward for a pretty light contract hit, and I consider him a stopgap before we see increased roles granted to AHL call-ups. He fits perfectly for what we need: a forward to play well at evens with the possibility of contributing on the powerplay if need be. Good signing by Cheveldayoff & Company, at a time when they really needed it. Bonus? Allaying some of the general concerns about xenophobia. At least until the Winnipeg media targets Poni for being lazy, Burmi for being enigmatic, and railroads them both out of town. But hey, at least we keep lunchpail guys like Thorburn in the fold!