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сентября 2001 года.
Will Kovalev match Jagr's production? // "Tribune-Review"
By Joe Starkey
WILKES-BARRE - Many people believe that when Jaromir Jagr was traded to the Washington Capitals, the Penguins lost the most talented right winger in the world.
Others believe that the Penguins still have the most talented right winger in the world.
That would be Alexei Kovalev, and won't it be interesting to see how Jagr's departure affects him?
Will Kovalev thrive with a bigger share of the spotlight?
Or will he suffer without Jagr diverting defensive attention and creating room on the power play?
Kovalev, 28, is coming off the finest season of his career. He scored 95 points, tied for fourth in the NHL. Some of his teammates predict that he will not only surpass that total but will challenge Jagr, Mario Lemieux and anyone else for the NHL scoring title.
Remember, Kovalev and Jagr were neck-and-neck last season until Lemieux descended from the owner's box and joined Jagr on the top line. Jagr finished the season with 121 points to win his fourth consecutive scoring title.
Asked if Kovalev could give the Penguins the sort of point production Jagr delivered, defenseman Ian Moran said, "He's capable of it, for sure. You watch him, he's scary. His skill level is second to none. His vision is right up there. Last year was his breakthrough year, and he's just going to get better. Honestly, I think he can do what Jags has done."
Defenseman Andrew Ference agreed.
"I wouldn't put it past him," Ference said. "If there's a pool player to pick, it's him."
Kovalev isn't too keen on discussing that particular topic, but he is convinced that he can repeat a season in which he scored 44 goals, fifth in the NHL. In his first five full seasons, he averaged 24 goals and 57 points.
"You can repeat anything in your life," Kovalev said. "It just depends on how bad you want it."
To that end, Kovalev spent his summer bulking up in his hometown of Togliatti, Russia. He continued his long-standing tradition of firing weighted pucks by the dozen. He built up his arms by walking flights of stairs on his hands and doing push-ups.
Kovalev is living proof that a man can make himself very strong without the benefit of weight lifting.
"Everybody's growing," says Kovalev, who packs a heavy wallop at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds. "The defensemen are getting bigger. You have to keep up. It's not easy in this league to stay in front of the net."
Kovalev doesn't necessarily have to. He has one of the harder shots around, and it is his increased desire to use it, more than anything, that has propelled him to stardom. He finished fourth in the league in shots last season with 307, easily his career high.
He won't rule out the prospect that he could improve on last year's numbers.
"It's a little bit of skill and a little bit of luck," he said. "Anything can happen. Sometimes, you get a little lucky, you can score even more goals and surprise yourself."
Kovalev surprises somebody just about every day. Usually, it's his teammates who are awed by his ridiculous skill.
"I always tell the guys when I go home (to Edmonton) for the summer, 'Mario's great, Jags is great, but if you're watching anybody in practice, Kovy's the one,' " Ference said. "He's got more talent than anybody in the whole league. He's amazing to watch. On top of it, he's one of the nicest guys I've met. So, he's a guy you both want to see do it, and can do it."
A big factor in Kovalev's emergence is the stability of playing with the same linemates, Martin Straka and Robert Lang, for two-plus seasons. The newly christened "Arbitration Line" combined for 270 points last season.
All three players went to arbitration over the summer. Kovalev got $8.85 million over the next two years. Penguins general manager Craig Patrick says he isn't worried that complacency will set in.
"I think that line will have the same kind of year," Patrick said.
Several teams in the Eastern Conference added big-name players this summer. The Penguins lost Jagr. But they still have Kovalev, who is convinced everything will be all right.
"We're positive we can play good without him," Kovalev said. "Even better."
Страничка Алексея Ковалёва на
сайте "Звёзды с Востока"
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