One of my favorite moves that Jim Rutherford made last off-season was the signing of Alexei Ponikarovsky to a one-year deal at a very low cost of $1.50 mil. I liked this move because while Ponikarovsky was coming off a bad season with the Los Angeles Kings (5 goals, 15 points in 61 games), he was previously an 18-21 goal scorer for a good part of his career and had top-six potential. The other thing I liked about Poni was his ability to drive possession at a pretty high rate. He has been extremely well at doing this over the last few seasons, so even if he wasn't scoring, he would at least be contributing in other areas. That last sentence sums up his year with the Hurricanes perfectly.
The Poni Express' career as a Hurricane lasted 49 games before he was traded to the New Jersey Devils for Joe Sova and a 4th round pick, but I think he played a lot better than his 7-7-14 scoring line indicates. He is a player who I thought "did everything but score" because he was used in so many roles this year and performed well in most of them. The only problem was that he just couldn't seem to hit the back of the net no matter how many shots he got off. Whether you want to blame that on a 7.1% shooting percentage or a "lack of finishing ability" is up to you.
Either way, Ponikarovsky has proven himself to be a useful piece but he is more suited for a third-line role now, which is something that the Hurricanes did not need this year. Which is why he has performed better on the Devils, a team that was starving for depth forwards and Ponikarovsky gave them exactly what they needed at the time. I have a feeling that he will have a job in the NHL next year.
After the jump, we will take a look at the underlying stats from Poni's tenure with the Hurricanes and see in which ways he was useful here, and how he was not.
Alexei Ponikarovsky 2011-12 Scoring Chances
Average TOI/G: 14:44
Even Strength Chance% Fwd Rank: 9/19
Even Strength Chance Diff/60 Fwd Rank: 10/19
Qualcomp Fwd Rank: N/A
OZ Start%: 46.8%
The zone start data is combined with his time in New Jersey, so that is probably off a little but as of December 31st, Ponikarovsky was starting 48% of his shifts in the offensive zone, so it's in the same ballpark. As I mentioned earlier, Ponikarovsky was used in a lot of different roles in Carolina but he stayed in the top-nine for the most part with his most frequent linemates being Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu. It shows that he was mainly used on the second line but he did start the year playing on Brandon Sutter's line and was used with Eric Staal for a little bit, as well. He also received time on the second unit of the powerplay and was used sparingly on the PK. In a nutshell, Poni did whatever the coaches needed him to. How successful was he in these roles, though?
Scoring Chances by Season Segment
|Game #||TCF||TCA||SCF||SCA||Segment%||Team %|
TC = total chances, SC = segment chances, Segment% = scoring chance percentage during segment, Team %= Hurricanes' scoring chance percentage during segment
Season Segment Line Graph
Click graph to enlarge
When Ponikarovsky was on the ice, the shot attempts at even strength were going in the Hurricanes' favor. However, driving possession does not always mean that they are producing scoring chances and that was the problem with Poni for the first 15 games or so. He picked it up after that mark, though and soon became one of Carolina's top forwards in terms of creating creating and preventing scoring chances. He finished with a scoring chance ratio of roughly .489, which was above the forward and the team average so he was definitely useful as a member of the Hurricanes even if he didn't have the goals to show for it.
I do think that Ponikarovsky was a "shoot from everywhere" type of player because there is a pretty big disparity between his corsi and scoring chance ratios, which usually means that the player isn't getting enough dangerous shots away or that most of them were blocked. I think it was a little of both for Ponikarovsky. He had the strength and size to fight off defenseman and get into those areas, but he struggled to get a high amount of quality shots on net. He was better than most of his teammates in that regard, though. At the very least, he was able to keep play in the offensive zone whenever he was on the ice, which is a good thing but the Canes may have been hoping for a little more goal production from him.
Things get a little interesting when you look at how performed did when he was used on a scoring line.
Ponikarovsky was sub-.500 in even strength chances with most forwards but the one that sticks out the most are his numbers with Eric Staal. Those two just could not work well together as linemates for whatever reason, which is disappointing because one would think that Poni is the type of player who would benefit from playing with a near-elite center. It is tough to say who was the problem on that line because both of them performed better with other teammates.
A surprise here might be Ponikarovsky's numbers with Gleason and Allen because those two handled all of the tough minutes on the defense corps, and Poni was likely starting most of his shifts in the defensive zone if he was playing in front of them. His numbers here could show that he has the ability to drive the play with tough minutes but his numbers with Sutter & Dwyer contradict that statement.
As for the guys who was used with most frequently, Ruutu and Jokinen were close to breaking even when they were on a line with Ponikarovsky. That isn't bad compared to how some other lines played but a "scoring" line obviously needs to be better.