At the rate Alexei Ponikarovsky's ice time has been plummetting, he's on the fast track to becoming Leafs coach Ron Wilson's next healthy scratch.
And if the man who often found himself on the Leafs' top line last year wants to reverse the slide, it's all on him.
"When (Ponikarovsky) gets on the ice, he has to make things happen," Wilson said yesterday when asked about the big winger's diminished role early in the season. "When you don't make things happen, I've got other people that I'm not afraid to use in those situations.
"I don't wait for people to decide when they are going to play or whatever. I have to make quick decisions and I do."
Quick isn't a word you would use to describe Ponikarovsky through five games, which in part explains why Matt Stajan replaced him for much of Friday's game in New York and rookie John Mitchell was inserted in the top trio alongside Nik Antropov and Jason Blake on Saturday in Pittsburgh.
LOTS TO PROVE
"It's just the way it is," said Ponikarovsky, who has a goal and an assist in five games. "Basically, every year you have to prove yourself to the coaches what you are capable of and what you can do on the ice.
"It's life. It's part of hockey. I have to work harder to get things done in front of the net and try to create chances for me and my linemates."
While no one is suggesting Mitchell will be spending sustained time on the top unit, Wilson intends to find out what he has in the Waterloo native.
"I want to give him an opportunity to show us what he can do in regular-season games," Wilson said. "He has fought and competed really hard on faceoffs. I'd like to see what he can do playing with two guys who can play offence."
Mitchell, who was thrilled just to avoid a trip back to the Marlies following training camp, is doing his best to take it all in stride.
"It was pretty neat but I don't want to put myself in the shoes of Mats Sundin," Mitchell said yesterday. "It's great to know I've been given the opportunity."
Leafs forward Alexei Ponikarovsky is seeing a more diminished role with each game, tumbling out of his spot on the Leafs first line. Here's a look at his ice time through five games:
St. Louis 15:15
NY Rangers 11:48