It's time for Ponikarovsky to step up.
No more excuses. The now-Canadian citizen is going to have display his talent and prove to the Leafs why he should rejoin them in the long-term. The six-foot-four, 220 pound sniper has shown glimpses of being top-six forward quality, but that's as far as he goes before falling back into inconsistency.
In Ponikarovsky, the Leafs have a solid two-way player who has above average skating abilities and can snipe the puck with deadly precision. While he has a big frame, 'Poni' tends to be a little soft at times, taking his size for granted. If he'd be able to finish his scoring chances more often (he misses a lot), he could potentially
become a 30-goal scorer.
While he was no stranger to the first line, Ponikarovsky only averaged 15:57 of ice-time last season. If he could find chemistry with Antropov again, he could spend a lot of time on the first-line and PP. In order to become a legitimate threat though, he'll have to find the consistency he's been lacking in his NHL career so far.
Much like teammate Alexander Steen, Ponikarovsky is often discussed in terms of potential. Now 28, it's time for him to realize his upside and become a staple on the Leafs' offensive attack. On a rebuilding club like the Leafs, it'll be up to players like him to lead the charge and set an example. He's had time on the top-line before so it's not as if he's new to the pressure that resides with Toronto. However, he hasn't posted dominant numbers in his past few years with the Leafs.
Ponikarovsky's last three seasons in the NHL:
2005-06: 81 21
2006-07: 71 21
2007-08: 66 18
17 35 36
For a player who has often been called upon for playing with former-Leaf Mats Sundin (notice the "former'', I refuse to bring bad vibes and make him re-sign here), these point totals are simply not good enough. If he improves on finishing plays, however, Ponikarovsky could find his niche as a 25-goal, 50-point player who can contribute to the PK, but Wilson has some work ahead of him in order for this to happen. In any case, that's the kind of player you want on a rebuilding team (or any team for that matter).
Of course, Ponikarovsky is not alone in this boat. In fact, nearly half of the Leafs' current roster are underachievers who are being depended on to step it up in a big way.
Some work is in order, but if they can find their drive, the Leafs could surprise. There's no time like the present, make your stamp or suffer (enjoy) the fate that players like Tucker and Wellwood shared.
As always, it'll be an interesting season in Leaf Nation.
Fearless prediction: Ponikarovsky posts career numbers and finishes with 23 goals and 53 points.