Ilya Kovalchuk’s Game Is Incredible

Pat Pickens

When the New Jersey Devils traded for Ilya Kovalchuk about three years ago, I thought they were simply getting a goal scorer.

Who knew the Devils were actually getting a thoroughbred.

Ilya Kovalchuk's game has rounded out immensely since his 2010 trade from Atlanta.

Ilya Kovalchuk’s game has rounded out immensely since his 2010 trade from Atlanta.

Kovalchuk played 28:58 in New Jersey’s 3-2 win over Washington on Thursday night. The Russian winger scored a goal and had a game-high seven shots on goal Thursday.

Kovalchuk’s 26:03 average leads all forwards in ice time, and it isn’t even close really. Kovalchuk ranks eighth in the NHL in ice time and is the only forward in the top 63.

To watch Kovalchuk and not marvel is to turn a blind eye on how incredible his game truly is. He covers all facets of the ice. He plays the point on power plays, he kills penalties and he even sparingly takes faceoffs.

But Kovalchuk’s strengths are most evident on New Jersey’s power plays, when he spends the entire two minutes on the ice playing the point. He peppers shot after shot at the opposition’s cage — even during the third period Thursday while Washington double-teamed him.

He then goes to the bench for a short break before heading out for his normal shift.

The pressure was on for Kovalchuk to perform before this year. With all apologies to Martin Brodeur, Zach Parise’s departure has left Kovalchuk as the present — and future — face of the franchise. He’d not worn such a badge since he left Atlanta — and he really didn’t handle being the face of the Thrashers too well.

Maybe Peter DeBoer commands some respect for that. Jacques Lemaire was a stabilizing influence as well. But Kovalchuk’s probably just matured into a all-around player who simply wants to win.

A friend texted me a few weeks back and asked which player I’d want: Alex Ovechkin or Kovalchuk. Five years ago — when Ovechkin was scoring 65 goals and Kovalchuk was labeled TK for “Team Killer” — it would have been a slam dunk in Ovechkin’s favor.

But now the tables have turned. I think I’d take Kovalchuk today.

Pat Pickens is a New Jersey native and lifelong Devils fan. Follow him on Twitter here.