Veterans were officially on the ice for training camp Saturday morning, and Kovalchuk noted after his Group A session that he liked his new linemates. A lot.
"Who wouldn’t?" he said. "Those two are some of the best players in the League, so it’s always fun to play with great players."
Kovalchuk, the NHL's leading goal scorer since his 2001-02 debut, has normally been a left wing. But with all the talent the Devils have on the left side, Kovalchuk is getting a look on the right. He wasn't concerned about the change.
"It’s pretty much the same," Kovalchuk said. "I need probably a couple days then a couple of games to adjust. I told Z (Parise) that if I’m on his side to just let me know and I’ll go back on the right."
Parise cracked the 40-goal mark two seasons ago, and Zajac set career highs last year of 25 goals and 67 points. For Kovalchuk, who has six straight 40-goal seasons, skating with that kind of talent would make a transition that much easier.
"I’m not used to it, but to play with those two guys, I would play in goal if I had to," Kovalchuk said. "Those are two great players and I think we’re going to have great chemistry. If we work hard as a group of three, I think we’re going to be very successful."
Head coach John MacLean wants to see what pans out with the new threesome.
"Zach and Travis have had some good chemistry together," MacLean said. "I just thought I'd try. Zach's a north-south player, they're all very talented, so I just thought I would see if there's any chemistry there. You have to find some combinations and you have to find ice time for everybody."
Kovalchuk was open to experimenting.
"He's a team guy," MacLean said. "He's very receptive, very positive. Training camps are for a little experimentation. You see what you've got, you see what clicks and things will evolve as we go forward."
Zajac took the change in stride. In previous seasons, he has anchored the ZZ Pops line with Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner.
"It’s the first day so I’m not reading into it," said Zajac. "But to play with those two guys, it’s easy to play with them. Great players and as a center, you just have to try and find them when they’re open."
For Parise, the distinction between left and right wings has been blurred by a style of play that's less north-south than it once might have been.
"It’s not the 70s anymore where you’re skating up and down your one wing," Parise said. "You’re going all over the ice. You need structure, you need to know where you’re going in the defensive zone, but if I end up on the right side on certain plays then that’s fine. I’m comfortable playing on that side; that’s just how we’re going to line up on faceoffs."
Now he's hoping the trio will stick together.
"I think it’ll give us some time to develop some chemistry between the three of us, and who knows?" he said. "Everyone’s kind of guessing right now. I don’t think anyone’s reading too much into how we’re starting, how the lines are today. We’ll see. It’ll be a fun line if we did play like that."
Last year, Kovalchuk and Parise ranked among the League's top shooters. Parise was second overall with 347 shots; Kovalchuk finished ninth with 290.
"Sure, definitely. There's definitely enough pucks," MacLean said. "I don't find any of them to be selfish hockey players, either. There's definitely enough pucks and there's enough talent to be creative, also."
Parise joked that with two of the game's premier shooters on his wings, Zajac might not manage 100 shots next season.
"But he may have 100 assists," MacLean said.
NJD NOTES The Group A session only lasted an hour, but that was enough time for MacLean to earn some early rave reviews. His transition strategies are already drawing positive reactions.
"That's kind of an area that we struggled with last year was our transition game," Parise said. "It was almost as if no one really knew where to go at certain times. I think when you have kind of a rhyme or reason of why you're doing things and when you're doing things in the neutral zone and you know where other players are going to be, it makes it easier. I think over the years we kind of got away from that. We tried to be too simple and just jam it up the wall. Now at least we have some puck control and carrying the puck up with a lot more speed."
MacLean said the Devils' transition game will be slightly different than last season, adding that with all their talent, the Devils need to play a puck possession game.
"We have to attack the other team," he explained. "There's a few trigger points for it to get going forward, and I think the guys coming through the neutral zone with some speed and getting the puck in and getting in on the forecheck, I think we need to use that to our advantage."