Alexei Ponikarovsky: Struggling After Leaving The Toronto Maple Leafs

January 27th, 2011 No Comments

Originally drafted in the fourth round of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft (87th overall) by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Alexei Ponikarovsky was seen as a little more than a project forward by most.

“Poni” would have a couple of short stints with Krylja Sovetov Moscow-Russia, Dynamo Moscow-Russia and Dynamo Moscow-EuroNHL before finally joining the Maple Leafs in 2000-2001.

Ponikarovsky would split the 2000-2001 season between the Maple Leafs and their AHL affiliate (then the St. John’s Maple Leafs), accumulating one goal and three assists with Toronto through 22 games, followed by a decent 36 points in 49 games in St. John’s.

The 2001-2002 season saw Ponikarovsky spend 72 games with the St. John’s Maple Leafs where he scored 21 goals and 48 points through 72 games. He would spend the majority of the 2002-2003 season in St. John’s before making his second appearance with the big club, this time lasting 13 games in which he had a total of three assists.

Poni would finally spend an entire season with the Maple Leafs in 2003-2004, accumulating 28 points through 73 games. He would follow that up with two consecutive 21-goal seasons, boasting point totals of 38 (2005-2006) and 45 (2006-2007).

With two 21 goal seasons behind him many hockey pundits felt it was just a matter of time before Ponikarovsky hit the 30-goal mark. Sadly, here in 2011, Ponikarovsky is still without a 30-goal season. In fact, his best season came in 2008-2009, Where, through 82 games, he tallied a total of 23 goals and 38 assists for a total of 61 points (all career highs).

With the Maple Leafs looking to rebuild and unrestricted free agency pending, Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager Brian Burke pulled the trigger on a deal which sent the “Poni express” to the Pittsburgh Penguins for prospect Luca Caputi (who has yet to pan out) and veteran defenseman Martin Skoula (who was later traded to the New Jersey Devils for a fifth round draft pick).

At 6’4” and 225 pounds, the Penguins thought they were getting a player that could bolster their top two lines for a playoff run and during the playoffs and, if all went well, could add to their everyday lineup in the summer when Ponikarovsky became a UFA.

Ponikarovsky flopped in Pittsburgh, scoring a total of three goals and 14 points through 27 regular season and playoff games combined.

Ponikarovsky’s total’s were not horrible, but the expectations were high for Poni—especially when you are given a chance to play alongside the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on occasion.
As a result, the Penguins took a pass on Ponikarovsky in the summer.

In the absence of an offer from the Penguins Ponikarovsky “settled” on the Los Angeles Kings, where, like the Penguins organization before them, it was thought that Poni would have a huge impact.

Unfortunately for the Kings Ponikarovsky has struggled, posting three goals and seven points through 29 games.

To be fair, Ponikarovsky suffered a broken finger in a game against the Nashville Predators on November 6th, hampering his chances of having a bounce-back season with the Kings.

The Los Angeles Kings were 10-3 at the time, they have gone a combined 16-19-1 since, going from first in their Division all the way down to the bottom of the Division in fifth place.

The correlation between Ponikarovsky’s injury and the Kings’ struggles is probably a bit of a stretch. There have been plenty of other factors contributing to the Kings’ struggles, Ponikarovsky’s absense was just a small piece of the equation.

Still, the fact remains—since leaving the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ponikarovsky has been less than spectactular.

Since returning from his finger injury on December ninth, through 16 games, Ponikarovsky has registered a grand total of one goal and one assist (both scored on December 8th against the Detroit Red Wings).

That means Ponikarovsky has now gone a total of 15 games without registering a point (arguably the worst stretch of his career), and while he has been an even player on the plus/minus scale, that’s not the reason the Los Angeles Kings brought him into the fold, that’s not the player they thought they were getting—a two-way player with 20 goal potential with a bit of an edge.

For fans of the Maple Leafs, Ponikarovsky joins a short list of ex-Maple Leafs that do not go on to haunt the Blue and White. Thus far, Ponikarovsky is yet to prove he was anything but what he was as a member of the Maple Leafs—a player that, while good some nights, often comes up small, leaving you wanting for more.

It often seems as if most ex-Maple Leafs go on to stellar careers elsewhere, Ponikarovsky is proof that it is not a given.

Until next time,

Peace!

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