Emptying The Bag: The Alexei Ponikarovsky Trade

Corey Griffin

My friend Brian Bassett over at SNY’s theJetsBlog runs this occasional feature called “The Junk Drawer.” He uses it to basically get out a bullet pointed list of thoughts rattling around his head about a specific move or a specific period of time. I’m officially stealing this idea, with all due respect to Brian, and calling my version “Emptying The Bag” — an allusion to those days when you’d pull all your stinky hockey equipment out of the bag to air it out before it grew mold. The first version is below and basically empties my head of whatever thoughts I had left regarding the Alexei Ponikarovsky trade…

The (no) adjustment bureau: They say familiarity breeds contempt, but in this case, it creates a lack of waiting time. One of the advantages of Ponikarovsky is the Devils don’t have to spend time teaching him the system or waiting for him to get adjusted to new surroundings or hoping he finds chemistry with his teammates. This is all old news for Poni and the Devils, who already have a limited amount of time as it is in the shortened season. For that reason, I would in no way be surprised if he picked up exactly where he left off last season, when he had seven goals and 18 points in 33 games for New Jersey. Will he score on that pace? Probably not, but with this Devils team, any additional offensive input is a bonus, especially when it comes from the first line left wing.

FLLW: I’ve written multiple times about the way station that has been the left side of the Devils’ top forward line. I even have a hastily created acronym for it. But the truth is that even Dainius Zubrus wasn’t producing enough offensively to merit his place on the top line. I like the idea of Poni skating there because he brings the size and physicality that Zubrus brought, but perhaps with a better offensive touch. With Ilya Kovalchuk shooting almost every puck he gets his hand on, a big body like Ponikarovsky could be very useful in the front of the net to help clean up the rebounds. Plus, it allows the Devils to play guys like Ryan Carter and Stefan Matteau on the third and fourth lines, respectively, where their minutes won’t balloon too much and where they’re far more comfortable as players.

Size: When the Devils lost Zubrus, they lost a big physical presence along the boards and in the corners. That type of size is not easily replaced and while Ponikarovsky isn’t Zack Kassian, his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame as incredibly useful to the Devils last season and during the team’s postseason run. After today’s  morning skate, Pete DeBoer said that Ponikarovsky is as close to a replica of Zubrus as the Devils could have possibly hoped for. For now, it’ll help the Devils survive the loss of Zubrus and when Zubrus returns, well, it makes the Devils a whole lot deeper.

Depth: Krys Barch has skated in 10 of the Devils’ 13 games yet is averaging just five minutes a night. Stefan Matteau, meanwhile, has appeared in nine games and is averaging just a shade over nine minutes per game. That tells all you need to know about the Devils’ depth issues, particularly on the left wing. We all know the Devils need an enforcer like Barch when they come up against division rivals like the Rangers and Flyers, but there’s no way he should have played in 10 games so far this season. He is rather useless offensively and not that great in his own end either. He is a spot-start kind of player, the guy you bring in for random nights when you know someone needs defending or someone needs a beating. As for Matteau, I like the kid and I think he’s got a strong NHL future ahead of him, but he’s here because the Devils don’t have a player to keep him out of the lineup. He realistically would be better off developing in the AHL or back in junior, but he’s here because the Devils have been woefully undermanned at left wing to start this season. This trade, however, pretty much solves that once Zubrus is healthy. With Zubrus and Ponikarovsky in the lineup on a nightly basis (both better players than Barch and Matteau at this point), the Devils can re-assign Matteau to the AHL until late in the season for him to develop and Barch can go back to being a spot-starter.