TORONTO – The defending Stanley Cup champions have made a splash ahead of Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline.
The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Alexei Ponikarovsky from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for prospect Luca Caputi and defenceman Martin Skoula on Tuesday night.
Ponikarovsky, 29, has 19 goals and 22 assists in 61 games for the Leafs this season. The Ukrainian winger was a healthy scratch for Toronto’s 5-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night in anticipation of the trade. He was in his ninth season with the Maple Leafs, totalling 257 points in 477 games.
Ponikarovsky joins a Pittsburgh team with depth down the middle -with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal – but in need of scoring wingers, a role he will get a chance to fill.
Penguins general manager Ray Shero was pleasantly surprised to add a productive winger with good size – Ponikarovsky is six-foot-four – without dealing any top-line players.
“I didn’t think this was a deal we’d be able to do. If you’d have told me we could do it a few days ago, I’d have said no way,” Shero said Tuesday night. “This gives us a chance to be a good team again. I was happy with our team. We didn’t have to take anything off our team.”
Penguins forward Ruslan Fedotenko, also of Ukraine, was excited at the addition.
“He’s a good, hardworking winger who drives to the net hard, he has good size, he’s a good player,” said Fedotenko. “I feel like he’s a good addition for us.”
Caputi was selected by the Penguins in the fourth round of the 2007 entry draft. At six-foot-three, the Toronto native has the size and physical style to become an effective NHL power forward.
“Luca was the guy they wanted,” Shero said. “We had a long discussion internally. That was not a guy we wanted to trade or looking to trade. But at the end of the day Poni was that guy (Pittsburgh wanted).”
The 21-year-old has 47 points in 54 games with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League this season after scoring 45 points as a rookie. He has appeared in nine games with Pittsburgh over two seasons, scoring twice and adding an assist.
Skoula, 30, played in 33 games with Pittsburgh this season, his 10th in the NHL. The Czech veteran is making US$575,000 and will be an unrestricted free agent July 1.
Ponikarovsky will count about $480,000 against Pittsburgh’s salary cap for the rest of the season.
The NHL trade deadline is 3 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
-With files from The Associated Press