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Kovalchuk: 'I will give everything I can to help'

Will Ilya Kovalchuk play on Monday night against the Jets? The verdict is still out

by Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL / canadiens.com

BROSSARD - Ilya Kovalchuk took his first strides in Canadiens colors on Sunday.

One of 11 players who participated in the optional practice at the Bell Sports Complex, the 36-year-old left-winger was all smiles alongside his new teammates during the on-ice session.

"I didn't take my option today," joked Kovalchuk. "I wanted to skate a little bit and feel the ice. It's a good feeling. The last time I skated was on Friday, so I feel pretty good."

The Russian sniper wholeheartedly appreciated being back in a team environment again amongst his peers.

Even though his departure from the Los Angeles Kings was just a short time ago, he already missed the camaraderie of an NHL locker room.

Needless to say, he was eagerly anticipating the afternoon workout.

"I know most of the guys who practiced played [against Pittsburgh on Saturday night] and they were a little tired, but it's good to be around the guys and talk, smile and laugh," mentioned Kovalchuk. "It gives you a lot of energy."

His first impression of some of his new colleagues was most definitely a positive one.

He genuinely appreciates the group of players around him and believes the potential to accomplish some good things is there.

And he desperately wants to contribute to the Canadiens' cause in every conceivable way possible.

"They obviously have a lot of good young guys and a lot of European guys who are in their first or second year in the League. It's great, and I will help any way I can," affirmed Kovalchuk. "I just want to help the team make the playoffs. We're missing a lot of key guys right now, but we have all the tools here. It's a great hockey town, and I'm enjoying every second here. I will give everything I can to help."

When Kovalchuk will debut for Montreal is still to be determined.

Head coach Claude Julien indicated that a decision on Kovalchuk's status for Monday night's game against the Winnipeg Jets will come on game day.

The veteran bench boss isn't going to rush things given that the 13-year NHL veteran hasn't played since November 9. 

"We'll have to keep an eye on his performance because at the end of the day it doesn't matter how much you've skated, game-shape is different than skating," explained Julien. "We have to account for all that stuff."

If Kovalchuk is given the nod versus Winnipeg, though, he'll be ready to rock.

"It's up to the coaching staff. I'm one of the players, one of the choices," said Kovalchuk. "If they say "You're going," then I'm going to go."

Video: Ilya Kovalchuk on his first practice with the Habs

One sweet gift

When defenseman Brett Kulak found out that Kovalchuk was joining the fold, he was happy to give up his number 17.

In return for the kind gesture, Kovalchuk purchased a special gift for his new buddy.

"He had a nice watch sitting in my change stall today and he got it engraved on the back, "Thanks for number 17," revealed Kulak. "It was a super nice gift of him. It'll be a good keepsake for me to hang on to for my whole life."

Kovalchuk has always worn the number in honor of Hall of Famer Valeri Kharlamov, who was his father's favorite player. 

Admittedly, Kulak was always a big Kovalchuk fan. That made the whole situation even cooler.

"I probably would've been ok with Rock, Paper, Scissors or something for the number, but it's really generous of him," added Kulak with a laugh. "He was one of my favorite players. I always liked watching his game growing up when I was coming into Juniors. He's an elite goal scorer. It's cool having him around."

Video: Brett Kulak on giving his number 17 to Ilya Kovalchuk

As for Kulak's number change, sporting the number 77 going forward suits him just fine.

"There are a few good defensemen who've worn 77 in the past. I was just looking at the list, and it kind of jumped out at me. I thought it was nice looking," said Kulak. "My favorite number is seven. Seven's retired with the team, but I figured two of them is better than one, so I thought it was a good number."

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