NHL Rumors: Can Ilya Kovalchuk Carry the New Jersey Devils?

By Mark Donatiello

Ilya Kovalchuk has had an interesting run with the New Jersey Devils.  Kovy took a healthy portion of the blame for the Devils 2009 playoff run collapsing prematurely after he was acquired at the deadline.  Ilya Kovalchuk polarized the fan base after signing a monster contract that will likely be the last of his NHL career.  When the streaky winger slumps, the $100,000,000 man is the biggest mistake in franchise history.  When he carries the Devils, the Prudential Center is abuzz every time Ilya Kovalchuk touches the puck.

In the final 27 games of Ilya Kovalchuk’s first season with the Devils, Kovy tallied a point per game.  He continued his production pace through the Devils’ short playoff run but drew criticism for being a selfish player that didn’t fit the system.  In his first full season with New Jersey, Kovalchuk produced an extremely disappointing 60 points with just 29 assists, furthering criticisms that his playing style did not fit with the Devils.  However, under the tutelage of coaching legend Jacques Lemaire, Ilya Kovalchuk became a two way player.  He carried the Devils on their run from the basement, and nearly vaulted New Jersey into a playoff spot.

Last season was Ilya Kovalchuk’s first full season where production matched expectations.  His 37 goals mirrored the numbers Kovalchuk produced with the Atlanta Thrashers.  With 83 points in 77 games, Ilya Kovalchuk scored well over a point per game.  He battled injury, improved his play on both ends of the ice, and led the Devils with clutch scoring and determined play.  Coming off his best season as a Devil, can Ilya Kovalchuk carry New Jersey through the 2012-13 season in the absence of Zach Parise?

Ilya Kovalchuk has found the type of consistency that made him one of the premier scorers in the NHL with Atlanta.  His contract carried lofty expectations, but over the past season and a half Ilya Kovalchuk has met or exceeded the demands of his gaudy deal.

When Kovalchuk battled injury through the playoffs, he showed the heart many questioned existed.  When Kovalchuk produced 46 assists, the concept that a scorer like Ilya Kovalchuk didn’t fit the New Jersey system died with a 100-point Devils season and a Stanley Cup run.  When Kovalchuk produced consistently throughout the year and chemistry carried New Jersey to an immensely successful season, dissenters were silenced.

This is Ilya Kovalchuk’s team.  There is no doubt that he can continue to produce after sustaining offensive success for a season and a half.  He fits the New Jersey Devils system, it just took a season or so and proper coaching to adjust.  Ilya Kovalchuk is a two way player, a sniper, a leader, and the best player on the New Jersey Devils.  His production is sustainable, and he can, in fact, carry New Jersey to another playoff appearance.

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