Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero made his second splash of the trade deadline on Tuesday, acquiring left winger Alexei Ponikarovsky from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for top prospect Luca Caputi and defenseman Martin Skoula.
Shero who was very active on Tuesday in trade talks, exclusively targeted Raffi Torres of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Alexei Ponikarovsky of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Pittsburgh and Columbus held significant trade discussions on Monday and into early Tuesday morning but talks hit a snag when the Blue Jackets coveted defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who the Penguins have not made available in trade talks.
Talks with the Toronto Maple Leafs went back fourth on Tuesday with the Leafs asking price believed to be out of the Penguins range.
However, talks picked up around 5:00 p.m. I’m told and Shero confirmed that the Leafs came back to him in the afternoon in what sources say was an opportunity to match an offer made by the Los Angeles Kings.
“Kind of came back to me in the afternoon, and Luca was the guy they wanted,” Shero told the Tribune-Review. “We had a long discussion internally.”
Caputi, 21, who was once regarded as an untouchable by Penguins management, led the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins with 23 goals and was second in points with 47.
Shero admitted Caputi was a player the Penguins were not looking to trade, but there were members of Penguins scouting staff who only projected Caputi to be a 3rd liner at the NHL level.
Trading a 21 year old developing winger for a rental winger who is not a sure thing is drawing it’s share of criticism.
However, the Penguins window of opportunity is now and Shero believes adding Ponikarovsky was a move that was needed to bolster the Penguins chances of defending their title, even if it was at the expense of a Luca Caputi.
“At the end of the day, Ponikarovsky was that guy for us, ” Shero said, as the Penguins coveted a big body who can skate to play alongside Evgeni Malkin.
Ponikarovsky, 29, has 19 goals and 41 points in 61 games this season, just one goal shy of recording his fourth 20-goal season.
The 6-foot-4, 229-pound winger has been heavily scouted by head scout Derek Clancey since early Janauary. Ponikarovsky and Torres were targeted over Carolina’s Ray Whitney due to their age and their ability to provide more of a front net presence.
Ponikarovsky has seen action in nine NHL seasons with Toronto. Over that span the Kiev, Ukraine native has totaled 114 goals, 143 assists, 257 points and a plus-56 rating in 477 career games. He has added four points (1G-3A) in 13 playoff games.
Playing alongside an elite center, I’m told the Penguins scouting staff see’s Ponikarovsky as a prototypical 30 goal scorer. The 29 year old winger set career highs in goals (23), assists (38) and points (61) last season with Toronto.
However, anyone looking to see a tough rugged winger skating down the ice will be mistaken.
Despite his size, Ponikarovsky is more of a finesse player. He’s provides a big body in front of the net but is not overly physical in the corners or on the forecheck.
What Ponikarovsky does bring to the table is a strong skating ability for a player at his size, which is the why the Penguins expect Ponikarovsky to fit in well with their system.
According to some scouts his strong suit is his playmaking ability not his scoring ability and it’s going to be interesting if Ponikarovsky can play a factor in getting Evgeni Malkin getting back to his goal scoring level of the 07-08 season.
As for how this affects the Penguins group of forwards, it gives them options for the regular season and the playoffs.
Sidney Crosby’s unit of Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz is solidified but head coach Dan Bylsma has plenty of options on the second line.
It is believed Ruslan Fedotenko will get the first shot alongside Malkin and Ponikarovsky but Pascal Dupuis will surely be in the mix who has been a better fit than Ruslan Fedotenko this season. The coaching staff likes his forechecking ability and the speed he provides for Malkin.
If Fedotenko can play with any kind of consistency the rest of the way, the Penguins 4th line will be solidified with Pascal Dupuis moving down. Whether the Penguins gave up too much for Ponikarovsky is up for debate but for the present, the move makes them a better team.
Shero even went as far to say “This gives us a chance to be a good team again.”