Реклама в Интернет * Все Кулички
Cocky Kovalchuk certifies his status // AP
But Thrashers' No. 1 Russian a defensive liability
By Mary Ormsby
Ilya Kovalchuk is living up to his pre-NHL billing.
He is an exceptional scoring talent. Cocksure, confident, brazen. Ravenous for NHL stardom, even as a child among men at 18 years old.
And, he's a defensive liability.
Atlanta's history-making draftee has become the charismatic focal point of the Thrashers. Not just for his aggressive offensive output but also for an over-the-top personality that makes the first Russian selected No. 1 overall in the NHL draft arguably the league's most intriguing player.
Kovalchuk, who was held off the scoresheet in last night's 3-2 loss to the Devils in New Jersey, has an impressive seven goals already, following up an eye-popping 10-goal pre-season.
Tonight, Kovalchuk makes his first trip to the Toronto area when he and the Thrashers visit the Buffalo Sabres.
However, not all has been peachy in Georgia for Kovalchuk.
Over the weekend, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound rookie experienced a career first - a rebuke and a benching - as punishment for his consistently poor commitment to defensive play throughout the early going of the regular season.
"We felt it was important to get on him right away," said Thrashers coach Curt Fraser, who benched Kovalchuk for most of the third period in Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Kings in Los Angeles and then made him a healthy scratch Sunday for a 5-0 defeat by the Mighty Ducks in Anaheim.
"He's very gifted offensively, obviously, but he lacks that defensive side of the game, the attention to detail," Fraser continued.
"And by no means am I trying to turn him into a third-line checking forward, but he has to realize there are certain things he has to do for our team to play well. He has to work on things he's never had to work on before.
"We could just let it go and Ilya would be fine, a very good offensive player, but he's not going to be a complete player. It's better he learns these things right now so he develops and matures in the NHL instead."
Kovalchuk is considered in some hockey circles to be a high-maintenance prize, a spoiled young phenom who will not take direction because he believes he's better than most around him - including his teammates.
For the majority of his hockey life, that has been true; he was the go-to guy at 17 for Moscow Spartak of the Russian second division and the lethal weapon for any junior team he anchored.
In addition, he added, dubiously, to his growing fame through a propensity
for taunting opponents. For instance, in the gold medal game at the world
under-18 championship this year, Kovalchuk mocked the Swedish bench by
holding up three fingers to indicate how many goals he had scored and by
grabbing his crotch.
"He's just the opposite of high maintenance," Waddell said. "He's a
great kid. He's bought a car, he lives in an apartment (alone, although
his parents will visit often), he's mature beyond most 18-year-olds. He's
not sulky, he's upbeat and the guys around him pick up on that. He hangs
out with the guys and that's a big plus."
"When the game's on the line, he's the one standing up on the bench, he wants on the ice, he wants that puck," the coach said.
"As for that hothead label, I've not seen that."
Fraser said the best evidence of Kovalchuk's true nature is how he handled the humiliation of being benched and scratched.
"Oh, I don't think he liked it too much," Fraser said of his right-winger's reaction to being out of the lineup Sunday. "The first question I asked him was, `Why are you out?' and the first words out of his mouth were, `Two goals, defensively I was not very good (against the Kings).' He understands."
Speaking through a translator, Kovalchuk told the Atlanta Constitution Journal that the first and third goals in the Kings game were "my fault." And, on the flight from L.A. to New Jersey, he and Fraser huddled in front of the VCR.
"We spent six hours on the plane and for an hour of it he sat up front watching the video of all his shifts in L.A.," Fraser said. "But it takes time with kids. It won't happen overnight.
"He's been the showcase player on every team he's been on and all they
wanted from him was hang around at the blue line or the red line and said,
`Wait until we get you the puck, you score and that's all you have to do.'
It doesn't work like that here, he's got to do much more. But I'm fully
confident he'll come around."
Страничка Ильи Ковальчука на
сайте "Звёзды с Востока"
9 сентября. Kovalchuk may miss start of camp -
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
25 августа. Форвард Илья Ковальчук: Я еду в «Химик»
- Советский Спорт
29 марта .Илья Ковальчук: "Это был ужасный сезон"
9 сентября. Kovalchuk may miss start of camp - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
25 августа. Форвард Илья Ковальчук: Я еду в «Химик» - Советский Спорт
29 марта .Илья Ковальчук: "Это был ужасный сезон" - Спорт-Экспресс