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Nikolai Kovalenko Talks Avalanche, Playing For Igor Larionov, His Breakout Year, and More



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Will Nikolai Kovalenko join the Colorado Avalanche at the end of next season? My understanding is that is the plan for now, but as we all know, plans can change. And Kovalenko isn’t giving any hints (publicly) one way or the other.

But what else would you expect? He can’t come out and say it outright when he’s under contract in the KHL for one more season. That’s not a good look for him with his teammates.

In a new interview in Russia, Kovalenko talked playing for hockey legend Igor Larianov, what his plan is with the Avalanche, and his big year. When he talks about the style of hockey Larionov wants to play, it’s pretty fascinating stuff, and one reason why I think he’d fit in right away in Colorado.

Here’s a link to the full interview, but I’ll post some tidbits.

On his first season with Torpedo:

“As for me: I wanted to get game practice, gain experience and play smart team hockey. This, in my opinion, we succeeded – sometimes well, sometimes not very well. But stability was present – and this is the most important thing.

If we talk about statistics – for example, goals, passes, and so on – then in this regard I never set such goals in particular. Of course, you always want to be in the top of the top scorers, snipers and so on, but the team goal comes first. Win match after match, and personally for yourself – to raise your own level. This applies to all components of the game.”

On playing for Igor Larionov:

“I am glad, for example, for the young boys who come to Torpedo that from the very beginning of their career they have such a coach who gives them all the opportunities and directs them in the right direction. I kindly envy them that they have the opportunity to enter the KHL in this way. Because the first step in life is important, and for young guys the atmosphere in Torpedo is super. There would be more coaches like Larionov.

Throughout the season, some kind of oversight was expected from us, starting with the pre-season training camp. From the very beginning we believed in the system set by Larionov. For me personally, his training seemed a little strange at first. In the sense that they are truly modern, not stereotyped like most. That is, you usually die at the training camp, you can’t walk, but in Torpedo you are always in good shape. Last season was probably the best for me. Not even so much because of the points scored, but in terms of physical stability. Throughout the season, I felt very good. This, in my opinion, gave its result.

Firstly, (smart hockey) is when all five understand the team’s game system . Secondly, when everyone sees a partner and can beat an opponent not due to individual actions, but due to quick passes, combinational play and vision of the entire court. I believe that it is these components that can help beat any team, no matter how well it plays.

I’m not saying that casting (dumping the puck) into someone else’s zone, for example, after the red line, is stupid. It happens, but it doesn’t have to be done all the time. It’s good when you hold and own the puck, but it happens that you will be closed in the zone or you have already replayed the shift. My point is that sometimes it is useful when the situation allows, and it will benefit the team.

Igor Nikolaevich set the task for us to play through the pass and enter the zone with the puck. But not just for you to take the puck and run, but to interact with partners. This applies to all the smallest details, from the goalkeeper who picks up the puck from his own net, and ending with the game in a foreign zone.

So, probably, it is not necessary to interpret. There is both, as I said earlier. It all depends on the situation: I cannot say that I play only this way and nothing else. Sometimes the board is your assistant, the sixth player. He can help you with a throw-in, a long throw and so on, all sorts of situations happen when you play one-on-one with an opponent, one-on-two, and so on.”

On His Breakout Season:

“No, of course I didn’t expect it. There are a number of factors that cannot be separated from each other. The coaching staff that influenced the team system. And I personally like this system. The guys who played against us said that although they understand our game, we generally played unpredictably. The coaches told us not to be afraid to make mistakes – this is normal. It was necessary to have fun and get high from what you love. The whole team listened to this and this is what it led to.”

On his contact with the Avalanche:

“We are always in touch with them. They called me, but I am of the opinion that we need to get stronger and spend the season even better. Only then it will be possible to think about the NHL.

Yes (I watch them), and not only for them. I generally watch the NHL: I watched both the games and the highlights.”

So yes, he’s noncommittal on joining the Avalanche, but I would have been surprised if he said anything else.

It should also be noted that his dad, Andrei Kovalenko, spoke in a separate interview, and was asked about Nikolai’s plans…

Yes, thanks to the trust of the coaching staff of Igor Larionov, Kovalenko succeeded in the last season in Nizhny Novgorod – both in the regular season and in the playoffs. But we spoke with Nikolai, and he agreed with me that even an average hockey player can give out one strong season.

Only stability distinguishes the middle peasant from the great master. Therefore, in the upcoming season, Nikolai is obliged to play at least as well – and take this step towards the master. He sets himself up to solve this problem.

I know that from the “Colorado” there is a steady interest. Moreover, the NHL season was not entirely successful for this club, while Nikolai, along with Torpedo, grew well.

But when to leave for the NHL is up to Nikolai to decide next summer, when his contract with Nizhny is terminated. He deliberately chose the KHL and so far proves that he is right. Although there are other examples – the same long-term partner of his son in Lokomotiv and the youth team, Grigory Denisenko, who has been making his way through the AHL to Florida for several seasons. Until everything works out.

Not terribly different from what was said months ago. They continue to point out Denisenko as an example of why they don’t have any interest in the AHL.

I believe we’ll see Kovalenko with the Avalanche sooner than later, but with everything going on overseas, you never really know, especially after the shady business with Ivan Fedotov. With the salary cap situation, getting a younger player over on a cheaper contract would be huge for the Avalanche.

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