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Mending Elias excited for Kovalchuk arrival

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Elias was excited for addition of Ilya Kovalchuk.
Patrik Elias sat at his stall in a mostly empty dressing room Friday morning, peeling off his equipment after many of the other Devils had headed home.

Elias, sidelined since Jan. 16 with a concussion, spent some extra time on the ice following the Devils' morning skate at Prudential Center. Jersey's Team was set to host Toronto.

"I'm all right," Elias, who returned to practice on Thursday, said. "I felt fine conditioning-wise. No problems. It's just having the guys around, the traffic, changing directions (on the ice) and all that. It bothered me a little bit yesterday, and today we didn't do much out there, so it was fine. We'll talk about it again tomorrow morning and make a decision tomorrow."

With a Canadian team in town for Ilya Kovalchuk's first day in New Jersey, the media scrums were bigger than usual at the Rock. But the pack had cleared out by the time Elias expressed the optimism he has for the new-look Devils.

To the club's all-time leading scorer, the addition of Kovalchuk is just what the Devils needed. They visit the Rangers on Saturday.

"It's great for this team," Elias said. "We needed to have a guy who's a threat like that and can change a game. On the power play, everyone pays attention to him all the time. He's so quick with his shot and he creates opportunities and space for the other guys. It's going to give us a lot better balance and much better threat."

Elias is one of three former 40-goal scorers currently on the roster. He put up career highs of 40 goals, 56 assists and a club-record 96 points in 2000-01. New Jersey went on to its third of four appearances in the Stanley Cup Finals, losing in seven games to the Avalanche.

Kovalchuk already has 31 goals and 58 points, and joins the Devils having amassed five straight seasons with 40-or-more goals. He notched 52 goals twice during that stretch (2005-06, 2007-08), and is on pace for 48 this season.

Zach Parise, who led the Devils with 57 points before Kovalchuk was acquired, recorded his first 40-goal campaign last season with 45. 

Elias was excited for the chance to play alongside someone with Kovalchuk's elite talents.

"No question about it," he said. "He's a fun guy to watch and if it happens that I'll play with him, I'll enjoy every bit of it. Hopefully, we'll have a lot of fun playing hockey and enjoying it."

He had heard the rumors. Once the move became official on Thursday, Elias went into a texting frenzy.

"There were some rumblings over the last couple of days," he said. "You hear that from different guys, different teams. It was the same thing with everybody; they were like little kids sometimes. My wife said yesterday, 'It's like free agency all over again.' We went out for dinner with friends yesterday and she told them, 'Don't even talk to him now. He's out for at least an hour.' I started texting a lot of guys on the team. It was exciting." 

With 12 straight playoff appearances, the Devils have been one of hockey's most consistent franchises. Elias believes a presence like Kovalchuk, the first overall pick in 2001, can tip the scales in New Jersey's favor.

Elias, Paul Martin (arm) and David Clarkson (leg) are closer to coming back, and a healthy squad bolstered by Kovalchuk could become the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.

"We surprised a lot of people with the way we played in the first half. We had a lot of injuries, and we still do," Elias said. "Paul hasn't played for a long time. Clarkie has been in and out a couple of times. It catches up a little bit, I think, and the guys did a tremendous job for the time being."

Elias is a two-time Stanley Cup champion in New Jersey that has seen the team exit after the first round in the last two seasons. But the 2009-10 Devils are committed to going deeper this year and believe they have the pieces in place to do it.

"The first round doesn't cut it anymore," he said. "You get a taste of success, of winning, and you miss it. It's the best feeling for any professional athlete to have."

Elias hopes he and the Devils can share that feeling with Kovalchuk in June.

"We were always competitive here with the chance to succeed," he said. "With him, to have that firepower, that offensive threat, it steps it up, no question about it."

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