The Kid Can Play
Don’t be mislead by the demotion, Alexei Ponikarovsky can play hockey at the NHL level and the Leafs brass know it. The last time he was called up he was given a number more akin to a football running back, while this time he carried #22 on his back. But it goes much farther than that. Originally just an emergency fill-in for Shayne Corson, Alexander Mogilny’s back spasms allowed Toronto to take a longer look at his play at the pro level. Normally a call up from The Rock can expect to see fourth line duty and maybe two shifts a period. Not so with the Big Uke. While it is true he did start there, by the end of his stint with the big club he was skating alongside Darcy Tucker and Corson ahead of Travis Green and didn’t look out of place.
With Mogilny and possibly Gary Valk due back from the sicklist however, somebody was going to have to sit in the pressbox. Rather than have Ponikarovsky stagnate on the west coast trip, a return ticket to St. John’s guaranteed him plenty of icetime among the Baby Leafs top six forwards. Will he be back before the end of the year? It’s tough to say.
Ponikarovsky’s game brings more to the table than either Valk’s or Green’s right now. It’s entirely possible with 20 more matches with third line icetime he may well improve to a point where he could surpass Hoglund and Domi as well. That said, the only players that might be movable on the trade market out of those four would be Green and Hoglund and even the return on them would be minimal. However, three of this group, Valk , Domi, and Hoglund, are in the last year of their present deals.
What’s it all mean? Unless Toronto makes a blockbuster trade down the stretch for another scoring forward, which hasn’t been their modus operandi to date, don’t expect to see a lot of #22 in the line-up this season. Quinn would rather go with the horses he has now and give the kids on the farm just that little bit longer to mature, than rush someone for The Rock into the bigs. Then again, come October, there will be a very good chance that Ponikarovsky will be with the big club come opening night, most likely on the third line. The view from here says he’s worth the wait.