Jim Rutherford has been a busy man this week as he made his second trade in four days by dealing winger Alexei Ponikarovsky to the New Jersey Devils for a 2012 4th round pick and defenseman Joe Sova. The timing of this trade may have been a bit weird, but I think it is safe to say that we all saw a move like this coming. Ponikarovsky is a pending unrestricted free agent and signed to a cheap $1.5 mil. contract so he was probably the easiest to move even if his performance in Carolina hasn't been great. My belief was that a team looking for a depth forward would give up a mid-round pick for him and that's pretty much what happened here. It's not a blockbuster trade or anything but it's a deal that works for both teams and should tell us a little bit about the market over the next few weeks.
My expectations for Ponikarovsky were pretty low when we signed him because of the season he had in Los Angeles but I was slightly optimistic because a lot of his struggles were related to decreased ice-time and weak line-mates. I figured a return to top-six minutes would help him rebound but his 7 goals and 15 points in 49 games indicate that hasn't been the case. With guys like Zac Dalpe, Drayson Bowman, Jerome Samson and even Zach Boychuk looking to earn ice time in the NHL, some players are going to be moved and Ponikarovsky ended up being the first odd man out.
So why would the Devils want someone who can't score? Well, I don't know if you have looked at their roster lately but their bottom-six depth is pretty brutal, especially at left wing. After Zach Parise and Patrik Elias, they don't have any left wingers who can drive possession and/or play against tough competition. That's where Ponikarovsky fits in. They should be able to get an instant upgrade at LW on their third line with him and make their forward corps a little more deep as they push towards the playoffs.
Poni may have "lost his scoring touch" ever since he left Toronto in 2010, but one thing he is consistently good at is getting the puck moving in the right direction. In fact, he was one of the Hurricanes better forwards at driving possession and is performing slightly above the team average at creating scoring chances. The problem is that none of the pucks have been going in for him or his teammates. Ponikarovsky is getting about two shots on net per game and is on pace for only 12 goals, but his shooting percentage is only 7.1% and the Canes are shooting the puck at only 4.61% at even strength when he is on the ice. So, luck hasn't exactly been on Poni's side this year and it is possible that he may rebound. The Devils made a good low-risk move by trading for him since they had nine picks in this coming draft and Sova doesn't appear to be in their plans.
The biggest concern I had about trading Poni was that the Canes would get little to no value in return and they actually got more back than I thought. A fourth round pick probably means nothing to the Devils with their surplus of draft picks and that alone is worth Ponikarovsky to me. Getting a prospect along with him makes me like this deal a little more from Carolina's perspective.
For those of you who know nothing about Sova, the Devils blog In Lou We Trust has a fantastic write-up about him here where Britton Anderson gives some details on how Sova's game has developed at college. For those of you who want the Cliff Notes version, I will explain it here. Sova is talented offensive defeseman who attended the University of Alaska-Fairbanks for three years before signing with the Albany Devils. While at college, he was well known for his strong two-way game and was excellent at working the powerplay, which is where he accumulated most of his points. He is also known for his hard slapshot, which could make him a nice addition to the Charlotte Checkers lineup but Anderson notes that his decision making in the defensive zone is his biggest issue. He has spent this most recent season with the Kalamazoo Wings in the ECHL and Albany Devils of the AHL and his offensive productionfrom college has yet to carry over in either. (11 points in 31 games between the two leagues). It doesn't look like he has much of a future in the NHL but there's some potential here and I'm sure we'll find something to do with him.
In short, we got a mid-round pick and a prospect for a rental, which is pretty good in my book. There are going to be more trades coming from the Canes the next month or so and the players we have on the block right now will probably get us a much bigger return than what Ponikarovsky went for, so I would be cautiously optimistic about the trade deadline.