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Avalanche Film Room Series: Kovalenko Lights Up KHL; Can That Translate To NHL?



Avalanche Kovalenko

Welcome to the final piece of a three part film room series focusing on Colorado Avalanche prospect Nikolai Kovalenko.

The series is now complete, with 40+ clips of Kovalenko (#51) and his game over in the KHL. Part one focused on his physicality, and part two focused on his ability to impact the game in other ways that don’t always show up on the scoresheet. As mentioned in the previous film rooms, the goal of this series is to acclimate Avalanche fans to his game, as all anyone really sees are highlights.

Kovalenko finished the season tied for 10th in the KHL in scoring, but had the third highest point-per-game rate in the league, at .964. That’s pretty impressive altogether, but how much of that can translate to the NHL? A lot of people have thrown around the idea that he might be Colorado’s version of Kirill Kaprizov, but it might be wise to temper those expectations just a little bit. Kovalenko has plenty of skill, which we’ll showcase, but the situation in Torpedo may have set him up perfectly to have an incredible season.

In this film room, we’ll show off the skill he has, while also highlighting that some of his production may not translate to the NHL. That’s what makes the previous film rooms so important, because it’s the rest of his game that should give you faith that he can be a solid NHL player. The biggest question is – how high is the offensive ceiling?

Let’s dig in.

Great Playmaker

Offensively, Kovalenko’s greatest strength is probably his playmaking ability. Playing in hockey legend Igor Larionov’s system, his “pass-first” mentality has fit like a glove. He sees the ice well, and can deliver some pretty crisp passes in perfect spots. Everything came together this past season in the KHL for him, both in terms of stylistic fit, chemistry with his linemates, health, and opportunity. This allowed him to showcase his playmaking skills on a pretty consistent basis. The clips above show off his passing ability, and his ability to make plays on both his strong side and off-wing.

I was told, however, to not be surprised if his numbers take a dip next season, and if they do, don’t worry too much about it. For as much skill as he has, the numbers are a little inflated, and a big reason is the powerplay. We’ll get to that in a little bit…

Stylistic Fit For The Avalanche

In the previous two film rooms, we showcased Kovalenko’s ability to get in on the forecheck and hound the opposing team for the puck. He also can play a skilled game, and looks to enter the zone with control, as opposed to dumping it in. This is one benefit that comes from playing under someone like Igor Larionov.

All three of these clips showcase his poise with the puck. In the final clip, he completely resets on a breakout because of how little support he has from his teammates. Instead of dumping it in and giving the puck back to the opposing team, he resets, and his team starts the breakout again. On the regroup, he works with his linemate to get the puck in the zone, and then his ability to win battles comes into play, as he beats the opposition to the puck, and gains control for his team.

Skill Showcase

His numbers might have been inflated a little bit this past year, but make no mistake – he’s a skilled player. This is a clip from his previous year in Ak Bars, a season that was unfortunately cut short due to a concussion. Kovalenko takes advantage of some pretty soft defense (a common theme on some of these clips), and stickhandles through multiple defenders before labeling it top-shelf with his backhand. He was always a talented player, but the move to Torpedo really allowed that talent to shine through.

Racks It Up On The Powerplay

The powerplay for Torpedo was on fire all season long. They finished second in the KHL with 47 5-on-4 goals, and Kovalenko played a big role in that, averaging 3:23 a game with the extra man. However, that’s where a lot of his goal production game from. That, and 3-on-3 overtime. Of his 21 goals in the regular season, only nine came at even strength in regulation. As people have tried to make the comparison to Kaprizov, it’s worth noting that in his final year in the KHL, Kaprizov scored 27 goals at even strength. The year before, he put up 23. Larionov’s powerplay was deadly, and the chemistry between everyone on the ice was incredible.

None of this should be held against Kovalenko, as he was put in that position for a reason and excelled, but some context around his numbers are important. As you can see, he plays on the right wall on the powerplay. That spot is obviously occupied on the Avalanche by Mikko Rantanen, so he’s not taking that spot any time soon. All of this is just to temper expectations a bit offensively, as he’s not likely to get the same powerplay opportunities when he eventually makes his way to the Avalanche.

His playmaking ability is on display in the first clip, with a great cross-ice pass for a goal. In the second clip, he does a terrific job of finding open space, drifting away from the coverage to get open. And on the third one, he unleashes a quick one-timer for a goal.

Kovalenko is a strong prospect, and his all-around game should have Avalanche fans excited for his eventual arrival. Just don’t go expecting a point-per-game player when he does make his way over. The Lehkonen comparison is apt not for just his style of play, but perhaps where people should set offensive expectations as well, in a best-case scenario. He looks like a guy who could be a perfect complimentary player in Colorado, as he has the skill and work ethic to play with anyone.

That’s exactly what they need.

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