After spending the entire summer talking about how Alexei Ponikarovsky could help the Hurricanes and how his terrible offensive numbers last year were a fluke, it’s time to finally project what kind of numbers he will put up this season. Now that he’s 31, I think his days of being a 20-goal scorer are gone, as that’s how the trend works for most players but I also don’t see him having as bad of a year as he did in Los Angeles. If the Canes can get the Ponikarovsky who is good for at least 10 goals, can kill penalties and be useful away from the puck, then I say they got their $1.50 mil worth.
Ponikarovsky is no longer in the prime of his career but 20 goal scorers just don’t see their production tail-off this dramatically all the time. The biggest reason why Poni’s prodiction dropped off so much was because he was given limited ice-time in Los Angeles (10-12 minutes per game) and played mostly on the third line. In Terry Murray’s system, the responsibility of bottom-sixers is to work hard and play defense, which is what Ponikarovsky did. The problem was he could not score while in this role so will this be the same in Carolina? Are we going to have to give Ponikarovsky top-six minutes if we want him to be successful? It’s possible but I think Brandon Sutter is superior to Michal Handzus (at this point) so there could be some hope to produce offense from the third line should he be assigned that role. At the very least, he will be good defensively and away from the puck even if he doesn’t score much.
Ponikarovsky played his least amount of minutes since 2002-03 and shot the puck considerably less compared to previous years. If that wasn’t enough, both his shooting and on-ice shooting percentages took a huge nose-dive (Sh%; 2009-10: 11.4, 2010-11: 5.3, Career Avg.: 10.8; On-ice Sh%: 2009-10: 8.74, 2010-11: 6.6) so luck clearly wasn’t on his side either. Now, I’m not trying to hype up Ponikarovsky as a breakout player but I think it’s safe bet to assume that he’ll have more than five goals next season if he were to play the minutes he did in Toronto. I’m also saying that if he can’t produce offensively then he will be a good energy player if anything, and we got him for a low price so it’s not like that much is invested in him.
For Ponikarovsky’s comparables, I looked for wingers who became full-time NHL-ers at 23 years of age but had some prior NHL experience beforehand and had about three years experience in the AHL. I also looked at their scoring patterns to find some that may resembled his. There were a few interesting ones that showed up.
|Avg. 82 Games||82||15||19||34|
Ponikarovsky’s comparables don’t project anything too great unless we get him pulling an Emerson despite being a year older. Poni will have to stay healthy for almost all 82 games and over perform a bit to reach that mark. Kelly Miller’s drop in production was the most similar to Ponikarovsky’s only a little less dramatic. It’s hard to disagree with the average but I think it may be a little higher if he spends more time on the first line.
There’s plenty of forwards in the NHL who can stay productive after they turn 30 but for the most part, that’s the age where most of them take their downturn. Ponikarovsky needs to prove that he isn’t one of the many ordinary forwards who fizzle out after they hit the big 3-0. He’s kind of a late bloomer so that helps but him getting back to his Toronto days doesn’t seem likely unless he really over-achieves or “The Staal Effect” on him is greater than I thought. You can expect him to get more ice-time, more chances and possibly some time on the powerplay if he’s impressive enough and the goals should come to him eventually. 11-16 goals is not out of the question for Poni at all but after that, it gets dicey.