One of the newest faces in the Carolina Hurricanes organization, Ponomarev was drafted in the second round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, 53rd overall. A touted Russian centerman, Ponomarev plays well in just about every aspect of the game. Offensively or defensively. With or without the puck. On special teams or at 5v5.
While not necessarily elite at any one thing, Ponomarev is closer to being a complete player than most prospects, which boosts him considerably in that regard.
One of the only downsides for Ponomarev is his size. At 5’11” and 176 pounds, Ponomarev isn’t the largest prospect, especially for two-way center, but at only 18, he still has plenty of time to fill out his body.
While you can say many players play a 200-foot game or are two-way players, Ponomarev takes it further with his relentless work ethic and determination both in forechecking and backchecking and in every zone on the ice. This attitude combined with his high hockey sense and skills are what make him that complete package.
Another plus is that Ponomarev is already familiar with North American ice. He is currently in his second season with the Shawinigan Cataractes in the QMJHL — where he put up 18 goals and 49 points in 57 games in his first season and is currently a point per game player this season.
In the Q, Ponomarev has spent time on both the second and first lines, producing consistently and this year has also given him the opportunity to step into a leadership role, wearing the “A” in Shawinigan.
Ponomarev will be representing Team Russia in the upcoming World Junior Championships which will be a good opportunity for him to continue to showcase his skills in a role in the middle six. His relentless work ethic and overbearing backchecking may play a big role in the tournament, that traditionally sees more offensive showcasing.
Ponomarev signed his ELC a few months after being drafted, perhaps a precaution for him avoiding signing to a team in the KHL, but it also shows the potential excitement around him in the organization. His current game seems like it will be the perfect translation to the current one Rod Brind’Amour has established in Carolina and he could become one of the most promising prospect candidates in the next few years.
While not as high of a ceiling as some of the other players in the system — for instance Ponomarev seems like he will be a middle-six center at best in the NHL — he has a much higher projected floor due to his work ethic, complete game and already familiarity with North American ice and that lower risk raises him in this ranking.