Whether you refer to him as “Alex” or “Alexei,” Kovalev has certainly made a name for himself within the NHL over his 18 year career. Between multiple stints with the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and the Montreal Canadiens, Kovalev’s most recent bounce landed him in Sunrise by way of Ottawa. It’s possible that suiting up for the Florida Panthers might be the last hoorah for the 6’1″ winger, who has hit and/or surpassed the 20 goal mark in 12 different seasons.
So far, Kovalev has tallied four points on two goals and two assists for the Cats. While his impact might currently be that of a role player to provide guidance and leadership to some of the newer, younger faces within the franchise, his on ice production shouldn’t necessarily be his only contribution. After all, he is a member of the elite 1,000-point club. He spent last year abroad, but just two seasons ago during which he only played 54 games, he netted a decent 13 goals and tacked on 13 assists for the Senators.
That said, it was the ’00-’01 and ’01-’02 seasons that really saw him turn into a breakout star. As the rest of the world ticked over into a new millennium, Alex Kovalev transformed into one of the top scorers in the league. While with the Penguins in ’00-’01, he was fourth among all scorers with 44 goals and 51 assists, followed by a 76-point season the following year.
Fast forward to the present, and it seems that the Panthers’ biggest struggle seems to be keeping the veteran fresh while working within the condensed schedule. GM Dale Tallon signed Kovalev to a one-year contract over the long off-season hoping that his “great skill and vision” on the ice could have an immediate effect as the Panthers look to retain their Southeast Division title.
As if Cats fans weren’t excited enough just to have hockey return following the 113-day lockout, about three and a half minutes into the season opener against Carolina, Kovalev assisted on rookie sensation Jonathan Huberdeau’s first career NHL goal. The Panthers piled on four more to not only send Cam Ward to the bench, but also make quite the statement to open the season with a 5-1 victory against fellow division foe. Kovalev finished the night with another assist as well as a goal of his own for an encouraging three-point performance.
Unfortunately as the Panthers have cooled off a bit since then, so has Kovalev’s offensive impact. Some tough road outings and heartbreaking OT losses have the Cats at 4-6-3 and tied with three other teams in the East at the bottom of the standings with 11 points. After the blowing defeat on opening night, the addition of Jordan Staal teaming up with his older brother has helped shoot the Hurricanes to the top of the division with an 8-4-1 record. With Florida sporting the current worst goal differential in the NHL, offensive contributions quickly need to start coming from all angles… including the so-called role players. A shortened season puts far much more weight on every individual game, weight that Kovalev is expected to carry. Over 18 years he has more than proven he can make his presence known, and there’s no doubt that he became part of the “Tallon Blueprint” for a reason.
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