Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Kovalchuk for MVP

Several weeks ago I expressed concern that the rest of the NHL was not noticing the terrific seasons put forth by Ilya Kovalchuk and Tobias Enstrom. Well it appears that my fears were unfounded as Kovalchk was the 1st star of the month and Enstrom was named rookie of the month as well. Both players have been absolutely crucial to the revival of their team's fortunes after a terrible start to the season.

Kovalchuk has played like a force of nature at times. Many players can score when the other team's defensemen make a mistake, but Kovalchuk is scoring in despite of the best efforts of the opposition. That is the mark of a very special player or a very special season. I'll be honest and say that prior to this season that I favored Hossa over Kovalchuk because of Hossa's defense and all around game, but Kovalchuk has taken an additional step forward in terms of his defense and leadership in critical game situations.

When Kovalchuk first arrived he was exciting but very raw. From day one he had one of the best shots in the entire NHL but many other parts of his game needed finishing. His passing wasn't great for an elite player, he had no idea what to do on defense and he wasn't a natural leader. He was wild, woolly and unpredictable and he was still just a kid in some ways.

Kovalchuk is entering his middle 20s and like most of us he has matured with time. It is apparent that he has taken a larger leadership role this year and he has carried the team's offense on many nights. He has re-discovered his wrist shot after of couple of season's where he seemed overly reliant on his slap shot. His passing is much improved from the early years and playing with Hossa has encouraged him to look for team mates more frequently.

He has learned to play defense (and I give former coach Bob Hartley a measure of credit for this). When Kovalchuk was first installed as the point man on the Thrashers power play I worried about short handed goals but he has shown great determination and broken up quite a few SH chances by the other team. Today I seldom worry about short handed goals with him on the blueline.

In the old days you would see Kovalchuk madly try and beat four defenders all by himself as his linemates peeled off for a change. Today he saves his energy (knowing that he will play more than 20 minutes each night) and channels his competitiveness into more productive directions within the game.

As is so often the case the fans have not yet caught on to the superstar Ilya Kovalchuk who has emerged this season. He deserves to be a starter in the All-Star game based upon his play but often fan voting in often greatly shaped by performances in previous seasons. I hope that with time fans in other buildings give him their votes because he has earned their respect with his play.

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