Apr 14, 2009 - Alexei Ponikarovsky
Back in September, 126 Leafs of the Day ago, I was talking a little bit about unlikely heroes and how one never knows which player will come out of the woodwork and be a star. I don't think we saw any stars come out of nowhere this year, but there was no shortage of surprises.
If you'd told me in September that Jason Blake would deliver full value on his contract, that would have been a moderate surprise.
If you'd told me that Schenn would stay with the team all season and be thrown out there in key spots, that would have been something of a surprise. If you'd told me that not only would the Leafs not destroy him, but that he'd thrive in this role, that would have been a much more significant surprise.
If you'd told me that the Leafs would finally make a call between Stajan and Steen, between White and Colaiacovo, I wouldn't have found that at all unlikely. Had you told me that White and Stajan would be the two survivors, I'd have been stunned. Had you also told me that Colaiacovo, now traded, would instantly become healthy and lead his new team in scoring (for blueliners) as they came out of the weeds to make the playoffs, well, I'd have expected nothing less.
If you'd told me that Alexei Ponikarovsky, with Sundin gone and Antropov traded, would play the best hockey of his life, best his career high in points by 16 and take on a leadership role with the club - well, knock me over with a feather.
I never really had a beef with Poni. To me, though, he just seemed like one of those guys who was just sort of "there." Someone has to play on the left side and put in 18 goals while generally not starting fires, and he did if for the Leafs. He could have been swapped out for any of the players doing the exact same job on 29 other teams. He seemed like a generally responsible player without a ton of upside.
Who'd have thought that all this time, he was being held back by his linemates? :)
Some folks just need an opportunity to shine. Ponikarovsky found one and jumped on it. The question now will be whether he will be able to build on it, and whether that building upon will happen here. It'll be an interesting summer.
The HHOF take on Alexei:
|1996-97||Dynamo Moscow 2||Russia-3||60||12||15||27||30|
|1996-97||Dynamo Moscow 2||Russia-3||2||0||0||0||2|
|1998-99||Krylja Sovetov Moscow||Russia||13||2||1||3||2|
|2000-01||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||22||1||3||4||14||-1|
|2000-01||St. John's Maple Leafs||AHL||49||12||24||36||44||+11||4||0||0||0||4|
|2001-02||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||8||2||0||2||0||+2||10||0||0||0||4|
|2001-02||St. John's Maple Leafs||AHL||72||21||27||48||74||+4||5||2||1||3||8|
|2002-03||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||13||0||3||3||11||+4|
|2002-03||St. John's Maple Leafs||AHL||63||24||22||46||68||+18|
|2003-04||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||73||9||19||28||44||+14||13||1||3||4||8|
|2004-05||Khimik Moscow Region||Russia||19||1||5||6||16|
|2005-06||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||81||21||17||38||68||+15|
|2006-07||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||71||21||24||45||63||+8|
|2007-08||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||66||18||17||35||36||+3|
|2008-09||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||82||23||38||61||38||+6|
- Signed as a free agent by Voskresensk (Russia), November 13, 2004
Alexei Ponikarovsky first pulled on an authentic NHL sweater as a 20-year old during the 2000-2001 season. Born in Kiev, Ukraine on April 9, 1980, Ponikarovsky sprouted early, and debuted as a Toronto Maple Leaf, who drafted him 87th overall in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft.
As a 6'4" and 200 pound physical forward, Ponikarovsky has spent each of his seasons since moving to North America being juggled between the parent Leafs and their AHL affiliate in St. John's. In 2002, the former Moscow Dynamo junior player for the Ukraine national team at the Salt Lake City Olympic Games.
In 2003-04, Ponikarovsky became a regular with the Leafs and contributed 28 points (9-19-28) in 73 games.