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To get Devils roster spot, Vladimir Zharkov needs to find scoring touch // The Star-Ledger
You’d think that hanging around Ilya Kovalchuk as much as he did over the final 9 1/2 weeks of last season, some goal-scoring luck would’ve rubbed off on Vladimir Zharkov.
But it never did.
Zharkov, a rookie right winger last season, played 40 games and did not score a single goal. It is the longest any forward in Devils history has gone without scoring a goal in the NHL (defenseman David Hale holds the team record of 146 games without a goal).
“I hope this season is better for me for scoring goals,” Zharkov told me. “I changed sticks. I changed the curve. I know I can score goals.”
Will he get the chance?
Zharkov, 22, started training camp this week with the rookies and minor leaguers. Veterans don’t report for physicals until Friday.
“No surprise. It’s okay. I talked with Lou (Lamoriello) about it,” Zharkov said. “I know I have to play very well. No mistakes. I have to work hard. And I need to score goals, for sure, starting in the exhibition games.”
There will be considerable pressure on both Zharkov and Kovalchuk, who took the younger Russian under his wing after coming to the Devils in the Feb. 4 trade with the Thrashers. Zharkov needs to make the NHL roster while Kovalchuk must prove to everyone he was worth the enormous expense it ultimately cost the Devils to keep him.
In addition to the 15-year, $100 million contract, Kovalchuk cost the Devils their first-round draft pick in one of the next four years and the team’s third-round selection in 2011. Those were the penalties imposed by the league as punishment for being found guilty of circumventing the salary cap on Kovalchuk’s first contract.
“I joked with him the other day. He was back in Miami,” Zharkov said of Kovalchuk. “I think he’s maybe a little nervous. He’s a good man. I think everybody is happy he signed here.”
General manager Lou Lamoriello, who some believe was pushed by owner Jeff Vanderbeek to sign Kovalchuk, did not return calls. He is in the process of trying to cut the team’s payroll by $3-6 million to get under the cap.
Zharkov’s salary is only $610,000. There is always the chance he could be included in a trade, but if he finds a scoring touch he could be the kind of forward the Devils require to fill out their roster.