Alex Kovalev was a name we didn’t expect to see knocking around NHL training camps this season, but then again we expected NHL training camps to begin in September, too.
So hearing Kovalev, 40 in February, will be attending Florida Panthers camp is intriguing. Not only because his name still carries a bit of cache amongst hockey fans, especially those who can’t recall his completely uneven 2010-11 stints with the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins; but because Kovalev in a 48-game sprint to the playoffs could be an asset.
If he can keep up.
He’d join a forward group that has some versatility but need more goal-scoring. He’d join a power play that was relatively lethal last season at an 18.5-percent conversion clip.
As George Richards notes, the issue with Kovalev isn’t desire – he’s been desperate to get back to the NHL for the last two years – but health, as a knee injury limited him to 20 games in the KHL last season.
"I think I have enough experience and I feel great health-wise. I know game shape is different than practice but it doesn't take that long, maybe a week, week and a half and you're in game shape.
"At the beginning everyone will be running around and will be anxious to start the season. Everything else will settle after 10 games or so. We'll all be where we need to be.''
It's obvious that Kovalev won't return to stardom but it is safe to assume he still has a bit of skill left that could be worthwhile for an NHL team to take a chance on. Something along the lines of 10-15 goals and 30-40 points is a safe assumption for Kovalev in a full season, barring injury. He can still produce but his health and ability to endure through the bumps and bruises that are an NHL season cast plenty of doubt over how successful an NHL comeback can be.
Here’s the problem with Kovalev and the ‘Cats. As much as he put over Coach Kevin Dineen in speaking with the Miami Herald – “I know what they have done, I saw what they did last year with the changes and making the playoffs” – he may not necessarily fit with the system.
As Litter Box Cats notes, it was all speed and transition for Dineen’s Panthers last season. While Kovalev can probably still hound the puck with the best of them, he couldn’t really keep up with the Pittsburgh Penguins in Dan Bylsma’s system during his last stint there.
Hey, we’re pullin’ for our favorite enigma this side of Alex Semin. If only to see how long the memory of the Canadian media is in dealing with Kovalev. Especially those guys in Ottawa with the “bags filled with beer.”
But if he can't make the cut ... well, he wouldn't be the first old guy from up north to retire in Florida.