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MacLean ready, eager as camp approaches

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
MacLean ready to tackle first year behind N.J. bench.
Veterans report to training camp in 10 days, and John MacLean is practically counting down the hours.

He knew he was taking over a two-time defending division champion when he was introduced as the Devils’ new head coach in June. What was still unknown as of last Friday, however, was whether or not he’d have Ilya Kovalchuk in the fold when Jersey’s Team bids for its third straight Atlantic Division crown.

That piece of the puzzle was finalized Saturday morning, when the NHL approved Kovalchuk’s long-term contract to remain in New Jersey.

“I’m fired up,” MacLean told on Tuesday. “I’m so excited right now to get going. It’s getting closer and closer and you’re anxious to get going. I’m looking forward to the start of everything.”

The League had rejected an earlier Kovalchuk deal in July for circumventing the salary cap. The rejection was upheld by an arbitrator, making Kovalchuk a free agent once again on Aug. 9. He signed a second deal on Aug. 27 that was given the OK after the League and the NHLPA negotiated amendments to the collective bargaining agreement.

“I’m glad I didn’t have to go through it,” said a relieved MacLean. “But you know what, it was done at the right time in the summer and now he can focus all his energies on playing hockey.”

The 2010-11 Devils will have three 40-goal forwards in the mix. Patrik Elias, who scored 40 in 2000-01, centered Kovalchuk last season, but that might change with the offseason acquisition of center Jason Arnott.

Kovalchuk has tallied six straight seasons with 40-or-more goals. Factor in Zach Parise (45 in 2008-09) and that wealth of talent becomes a nice problem for a rookie coach to have.

“We were thinking of lines even when it was unofficial because it was a possibility,” MacLean said. “The [offseason] line juggling is going to happen every day, but it is nice  to have a player of his caliber that you’re able to slot in somewhere. We’ll see when training camp opens where he goes.”

With Kovalchuk’s future no longer in question, MacLean has a clearer vision for what lies ahead.

“I’m excited about it like I was about it when we initially announced that he was going to part of the team,” he said. “I’m sure it gives peace of mind to him and also for us to get ready for the season. We’re looking forward to him being a big part of the team and the organization.”

As the ramp-up to the season continues, MacLean’s coaching staff, with assistants Larry Robinson and Adam Oates, is already hard at work. The Devils open the regular season at Prudential Center against Dallas on Oct. 8.

“We’re watching video day to day and talking,” MacLean said. “The coaching staff is coming in now, so we’re all just getting together. We want to get off on the right foot and get our energies directed in the right way. It’s positive, exciting and we’re looking forward to a good, productive year.”

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