Ilya Kovalchuk spent the vast majority of his career as a left winger. He lined up on the left. He has a right-handed shot, so he played on the left. He played a lot of minutes starting from the left for Atlanta. He continued to be a left winger when he was acquired by the New Jersey Devils in 2010. However, ever since last season, he was shifted to a new position. Yes, a new spot in the lineup. A location that he was not in before: right wing. Peter DeBoer became the head coach, saw that he had one ace winger in Zach Parise who has been a left winger in New Jersey for seasons, saw that he had another ace winger in Kovalchuk, and decided the two had to play together. The two had to be on the ice at the same time and so Kovalchuk had to adjust. He had to move. And what's more is that now that Parise has signed with another team and so the first ace left winger was gone, so there's that spot open once again, a spot where Kovalchuk excelled in, a spot where Kovalchuk was an all-star in, a spot where we all know he can be the scoring threat that he is, and yet Kovalchuk remains at right wing. How can this make sense? How can this continue? This is, I think, the reasoning behind the sometimes complaint of Kovalchuk's position on the ice. I've probably made it sound more hysterical than it actually is, but the general idea is the same. Kovalchuk was a great player at left wing and has had a lot of success at that position. He has a right handed shot so coming in from the left would be in his favor. Yet, DeBoer has put him on the opposite side last season and he is keeping him there this season despite past success at left wing and his shot. I completely understand that as the core point. That said, I'd like to argue that it's not a big deal. First and foremost, Kovalchuk was very successful last season at right wing. According to NHL.com, he finished fifth in the league in scoring with 83 points, he finished tied for sixth in the league with 37 goals, and finished third in the league with 310 shots on net. In terms of even strength production, where he actually did line up at right wing, he wasn't quite productive with 22 goals and 27 assists for 49 points. He only finished 27th in the league there, but he did lead the Devils there. According to Behind the Net, he was a positive possession player on the right side in 5-on-5 play with an on-ice Corsi of 3.03. Other Devils forwards did better, but the achievement was that he was positive at all. The production continued into the playoffs as he led the Devils and nearly the whole league with 8 goals and 9 assists despite playing hurt. All of what Kovalchuk accomplished in 2011-12 strongly suggests that playing right wing was not a problem at all for him if only because he was a top-ten scorer in the league there.
Ilya Kovalchuk at Right Wing (or Left Wing)
In Lou We Trust | Jan 24