|Kovalchuk on the ice Friday morning. |
The newest Devil has brought a palpable championship buzz with him to Newark.
arrived at Prudential Center on Friday morning, when he hit the ice for the first time as a member of Jersey's Team. He was acquired Thursday from Atlanta in the blockbuster that shipped Johnny Oduya, Niclas Bergfors, prospect Patrice Cormier and a first-rounder to the Thrashers. The teams also flipped second-rounders.
He'll wear red and black for the first time Friday night, when the Devils host Toronto at Prudential Center.
Kovalchuk, 26, is one of the NHL's elite snipers. The two-time 50-goal scorer has 31 tallies and 27 assists for 58 points in 49 games this season and said Friday that he was excited to be a Devil.
"Things didn’t work out with my old team and I have to turn the page and go from there," he said. "My wife she’s expecting, but she said, ‘It’s a great opportunity for you to win the Cup.’ That’s why I’m here."
The Russian-born left wing scored 29 goals as an 18-year-old rookie in 2001-02, then notched 38 as a sophomore. Since then, he's rattled off five straight seasons of 40-or-more.
He skated Friday on a line with Dainius Zubrus
and Jamie Langenbrunner, and adds another bona fide gunner to a lineup that already boasts former 40-goal scorers Zach Parise
and Patrik Elias
Kovalchuk – Kovy for short – can't wait to break in with his new teammates. He moves from an Atlanta club that was three points out of the final playoff spot in the East to a Devils squad that is second in the conference and one point ahead of Pittsburgh for first in the Atlantic Division.
"It’s unbelievable," Kovalchuk said. "You’ve got a lot of great players on the team and it’s a great system here. I just talked the coaches and they know what they’re doing. It’s exciting. I’m looking forward to tonight’s game and the opportunity to do some damage in the playoffs."
Only a few years ago, Zubrus rode shotgun with another Russian superstar. A member of the Washington Capitals from 2000 to 2007, he centered for a young Alex Ovechkin for parts of two seasons beginning in 2005.
"Playing with those (types of) guys, especially with Alex, I try to sort of gain some speed through the neutral zone and give it to him as someone’s coming to me in the middle so that way it creates space and he can do something with it," said Zubrus. "When you give those guys space, they’ll make something happen. They’ll get the shot off or they’ll create a scoring chance."
Lines from the morning skate aren't necessarily set in stone, as Kovalchuk already knows. He's ready to make a huge impact no matter what lineup goes against the Leafs
"They say you never know who you’re going to play with here because they might change right before the game. It doesn’t matter who you play with," he said. "You look at this roster, you can play with whoever and you’ll enjoy the game. If you work hard as a line, as a five-man unit, you’re going to have success."
Langenbrunner has put out the welcome mat for his new potential linemate. With Kovalchuk's talent, just getting him the puck becomes top priority.
"You make him feel comfortable in his new surroundings," the Devils' captain said. "We tried to talk a bit out there about things, but you don't do anything when you play with a guy like that other than play. He's going to do a lot of things on his own, and he's going to do a lot of good things. We just need to feed off him and try to get him the puck in places where he can be successful."
Said Kovalchuk: "I just try to play my game. I try to step on the ice, play my hardest and help my team win."
His time in New Jersey begins now.