Welcome to part one of a three part film room series focusing on Colorado Avalanche prospect Nikolai Kovalenko.
The series will drop over the next week, with 40+ clips of Kovalenko (#51) and his game over in the KHL. Part two will focus on his work ethic, intelligence, and motor, while part three will focus in on his high level of skill.
For part one today, we’re taking a look at his physicality and fearlessness. Kovalenko does have an advantage, as he’s already 23 years old, so he’s a little more physically mature at this stage in his career. He will be at least 24 by the time he comes over to North America and the Avalanche, which won’t be until 2024, at the earliest. The main goal of this series is to acclimate Avalanche fans to his game, as many are unlikely to have seen him play.
As you will see, he plays with no fear, throwing his body around with reckless abandon. These clips should quell any fear people might have about his ability to adjust to the game in North America. The flip side to everything is that he tends to put himself in some vulnerable positions, which comes with the territory of playing that way.
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Without further ado, let’s get to the video.
One Man Wrecking Crew
With his team changing, Kovalenko is left on the forecheck by himself. He does just enough to slow down the breakout, forcing the puck back to the last defender. With that defender pinned, he unloads, crushing the opposing player and taking him out of the play. At this point, his teammates have started to trickle onto the ice. The combination of his teammates coming in to help on the forecheck, and Kovalenko’s back pressure forces a bad pass, and a turnover. With very little help, Kovalenko slows down the opposing team, plasters a defenseman, and helps force a turnover. An impressive 11 second sequence.
Play The Body
The opposition player thinks he’s got an easy breakout, with an even easier regroup, as he turns back to pass it back to his defense. All of Kovalenko’s teammates either back off for a change, skate past him, or use their stick.
Rather than stick check the opposition, Kovalenko opts to use the body, sending the puck carrier to the ice and creating a rush chance for his teammate. A nothing play turned into a decent chance just by his willingness to get physical.
Wants It More
This play starts off with a great look from Kovalenko, sending a cross-ice pass to his teammate for a good look. After the initial shot is saved, Kovalenko rushes to the wall and creates a 50/50 battle. He ends up overpowering the defender off his skates, and with the support of his teammate, the puck is recovered. From here, you’ll see a nice display of skill, as he works a nice give-and-go with his linemate, sending the puck through the defenders skate to them in space.
Forechecking To The Extreme Creates a Goal
This is a pretty impressive display of physicality, body control, and skill from the Avalanche prospect. He heads in on the forecheck, slams the defender off the puck, and in the same motion, sends a pass out into the slot. At the same time, he takes a big hit from the other defender. His teammate finds the other forward on the ice for a wide open goal, and the opposition defenseman, almost in disbelief of what happened, can’t help but be frustrated, cross-checking Kovalenko in the back. He doesn’t retaliate, instead skating away, as his team had just scored. The fearlessness he shows along the wall is pretty common in his game.
If you like physicality, these clips are for you. Kovalenko is not a very big man, listed at just 5’10” and 179 pounds, but he throws his body around a ton. Whether it’s the forecheck or backcheck, he tends to play through the body rather than going past the opposition. That brute force often leads to him forcing turnovers, a battle, or at least forcing the puck carrier to make a quicker play than they would have preferred. These clips show that when he does eventually make his way over to the Avalanche, he’ll fit right in.
I particularly like the first clip, where he throws the hit, then gets followed to center ice. The opposing player gives him a tap, and Kovalenko gives it right back to him. He’s got some nasty in him.
Takes Some Hits
There is some risk to playing so fearless, however. Kovalenko is willing to go anywhere on the ice to get the puck, but tends to take a lot of hits. The numbers actually show that he takes nearly as many hits as he throws, which is similar to what a guy like Landeskog has done through his career. That’s hockey, and that’s how he needs to play to be successful, but you do have some concerns about how a smaller guy like that will hold up over time. If you were to compare him to someone currently on the Avalanche, the best stylistic comparison might be a guy like Artturi Lehkonen. A smaller player who goes into all the dirty areas and takes a beating. Like Lehkonen, Kovalenko is used in every single game situation by his coaches, which we’ll get into in part two.
In both of these clips, Kovalenko does what is necessary to make the play, but pays the price for it. On the second clip, he beats two opposing players to the puck, but takes a big hit in the process. It all works out, though, as his retrieval creates possession for his team.
Kovalenko suffered a pretty serious concussion a few years back, when he took a knee to the head from Andrey Pedan of Dynamo Moscow. That hit knocked him out of the lineup for two months.
In watching video of him, he not only took a beating along the walls to retrieve the puck, but took some pretty heavy hits in open ice. This clip is just one example of it. He cuts to the middle of the ice with his head down, and pays the price for it. This is a pretty nasty collision too. Kovalenko has very good vision with the puck on his stick, which we’ll showcase in part three, but does have a tendency to play with his head down from time to time. Just something that he will need to be more aware of in the future.
That’s all for part one. Kovalenko is fearless, and plays a game that should translate in North America, but when you play that way, you’ll take some hits too. That’s hockey, and that’s what makes him such an intriguing prospect.
Parts two and three will be released over the next week, as we’re in a bit of a downtime for the Avalanche. Stay tuned.