Ponikarovsky To Pittsburgh

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 05:  Alexei Ponikarovsky #23 of the Toronto Maple Leafs warms up before playing against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 5, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

To the surprise of nobody, the Toronto Maple Leafs have decided to move Alexei Ponikarovsky.  The 6’4” forward is now a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, with defenceman Martin Skoula and prospect Luca Caputi going the other direction.

Ponikarovsky is the first player off our list from the other day to be traded.  Here’s what I wrote about him on Monday:

It’s said that a prophet is only without honour in his home country, and at times it seems much the same can be said about hockey players.  Certainly the adage applies to Ponikarovsky, an effective two-way player and a consistent 20-goal scorer since the NHL lockout.  While dismissed by one prominent member of the Toronto media as not even being a top-six player, that’s exactly the role that the 6′4″ Ukranian will be asked to play for whichever team acquires him.


The nice thing about Ponikarovsky is that he’s dependable.  No matter how bad the team around him gets, he’ll score 20+ goals.  He’s missed that total once, in an injury-shortened 2007-08 campaign, and since the lockout has scored .  He’ll be a plus player: he’s plus-56 on his career and hasn’t been a minus player since his rookie year, where he went minus-1.  I’ve long been a fan of Ponikarovsky, something I went into detail on here.

Ponikarovsky’s a known quantity: a good and dependable if not overly spectacular player.  What about the return?

For starters, Martin Skoula is a throw-in on this deal, a cheap defenceman who has struggled this year and who had some trouble finding a home this off-season.  He’s a pending free agent, and with the addition of Jordan Leopold he was redundant in Pittsburgh.

Essentially, then, this deal boils down to Ponikarovsky for Luca Caputi, a fourth round pick in the 2007 draft.  Caputi was one of the older players in his draft year, but he’s looking more and more like a steal and probably has more value than a second round pick at this point in his career.  We’ll get to the numbers in a second, but I’m going to quote some excerpts from McKeen’s profile of him in this season’s year book:

  • “Made a promising pro debut highlighted by a goal on his first-ever NHL shift, however tarnished his standing by twice being disciplined for violating team rule – and even being banished briefly to the ECHL.”
  • “Won the Canadian Junior Ball Hockey Championship in 2006 while being named MVP.”


McKeen’s goes into some detail about his skill-set; he’s a power forward with both a fine shot and playmaking ability, but whose skating has been identified as a weakness.  In last year’s Future Watch issue of The Hockey News, they asked executive Tom Fitzgerald about this weak spot:

“His skating has improved by playing with quicker players in the AHL, but it’s something he’s going to have to continue to work on.”

In short, it’s still a concern.  Let’s take a look at his NHL equivalency numbers, courtesy of statistical wizard Gabriel Desjardins.  We’ll start with his draft year.

Season League GP G A PTS
2006-07 OHL 82 10 14 24
2007-08 OHL 82 19 22 41
2008-09 AHL 82 10 15 25
2009-10 AHL 82 15 16 31


Those are fairly good numbers, but not phenomenal ones, and although 2006-07 was Caputi’s draft year, because of his October birthday his 20 year-old season was actually last year.  Generally, a player slated to be a high-end scorer in the NHL will hit the point-per-game mark by 20 in the AHL; Caputi missed it by a fair bit.

There’s another concern as well.  Last year, Wilkes-Barre was a very strong club; they finished plus-62 as a team.  Ben Lovejoy led the team with a plus-42 rating.  Caputi finished even.  This year, they’re plus-11 as a team and Nick Johnson has a plus-18 rating.  Caputi’s minus-2.

Despite those caveats, I like Caputi.  I think he’s going to be a major-league player, and guessing right now I’d say he ends up as a second-line forward.  He’s a good return for Ponikarovsky, as long as expectations are not too high.