Los Angeles Kings Ilya Kovalchuk Offseason Expectations

NHL Rumours
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 06: Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the Los Angeles Kings scores an unguarded goal against the Vegas Golden Knights during the third period at Staples Center on April 06, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Kings have made a very courageous decision a year ago. Ahead of the July first in 2018, they agreed to terms with Ilya Kovalchuk. Kovalchuk left the NHL in 2013, but he made his comeback to the league five years later. His first season back in North America was not a successful one. Ilya Kovalchuk’s offseason is very interesting. Before the upcoming season, there are a lot of expectations from him and the same applies to him towards the organization.

Offseason Focus

The Kings decided to sign Ilya Kovalchuk to a three-year deal worth $6,250,000 per season. Judging on his first season with the Kings, Kovalchuk’s campaign has been miserable. He knows it as well as the Kings know it. In his first season, Kovalchuk had a very slow start. After rather a disappointing commencement, not only for him but also for the whole Kings team, Kovalchuk suffered an injury. The Kings responded to a blatant start to the season. They fired the Head Coach John Stevens and replaced him with Willie Desjardins.

At first glance, that move would help the Kings, but that didn’t materialize. Especially for Kovalchuk, playing under Desjardins was a nightmare in the process. As the regular season winded down, Desjardins wasn’t even shy of making Kovalchuk a healthy scratch. Firstly, the Kings had such miserable season and Kovalchuk was guilty part of it for sure. Secondly, though, Kovalchuk felt like he has not seen as many opportunities as he would have liked. To sum it up, the Russian winger managed to record 16 goals and 18 assists for 34 points.

More importantly, he averaged only 16:14 of the ice-time per contest. Over his wealthy NHL career, Kovalchuk averages 21:33 of the time on the ice per game. That´s a big difference. Also rewinding to his times back in the KHL, Kovalchuk is not used to such a low amount of time on ice. However, that trend continued as Kovalchuk spent the entire World Championship tournament on the fourth line, despite the fact he was the captain of Team Russia. After a frustrating season, Ilya Kovalchuk offseason ahead of the 2019-2020 season seems to be crucial. The Kings hope he will be able to bounce back in a big way.

Ilya Kovalchuk Offseason Revival Plans

Can Ilya Kovalchuk be “that guy” once again? Can he lead his team and be the most prominent scorer on the roster? Probably not anymore. Although, there is still hope for that. The Kings won the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes with offering him an extra year. That might prove to be very fatal. After the first year of his contract ended, the Kings know the position they are in. Los Angeles assumes that the second season of Ilya Kovalchuk is “make-or-break” type.

If Kovalchuk doesn’t correct his status from the first season in Los Angeles, there may be several scenarios involving his future. But the Kings don’t want to wait solely for that, that’s not their biggest focus as of right now. It’s all about that hope, as stated higher. Ilya Kovalchuk is a very good hockey player still. The Russian forward has a lot of pride in him and he will try to make his second impression much better than the first one. After all, he can still shoot the puck.

One positive note for him ahead of the upcoming season is that the Kings signed Nikolai Prokhorkin. Prokhorkin could play centre for the Kings next year. There is a chance that the new Kings Head Coach Todd McLellan decides to play both Russians on the same line. Before signing a one-year deal with the Kings a few weeks ago, Prokhorkin played three seasons with the SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL. The first two of those three campaigns spent with Ilya Kovalchuk. They weren’t playing on the same line thought as Kovalchuk spent the most time on the top unit, while the 25-year-old centre played mostly as the bottom-six forward.

Todd McLellan and Kovalchuk Summer Talks

One thing is for sure, Willie Desjardins is not there anymore and that’s a piece of very good news for Kovalchuk. The very key for Ilya Kovalchuk and his offseason improvement may be the new coach, Todd McLellan. “I have not talked to Kovy yet, and that is by design. I’d like to spend time with Kovy face-to-face. I think he’s earned that right with his background and his status as a player,” said McLellan for The Athletic.

McLellan clearly sets his sights on handling the “Kovalchuk case” with a lot of professionalism. He likes to talk to the players face-to-face. Maybe that would be the best option for both of the guys. McLellan will try to ensure Kovalchuk of his confidence in the player. Building a strong relationship between the 36-year-old forward and his new coach might be vital.

“I know he had a miserable year. As did the rest of the group, but he in particular. And I want to make sure that I can express myself clearly to him, create that relationship face-to-face,” McLellan added. And he also commented on the importance of Ilya Kovalchuk for his new team.

“So, we’ll do that over the summer at some point, but he’s an important part of this team. And he needs to realize, that everybody’s got to come together and we got to get the most out of each other,” pointed out Todd McLellan. With the veteran core of players not producing at the highest possible level, just making sure to get the most out of them every night may aid.

The Kings Hope To Have Ilya Kovalchuk As Part of New Culture

What’s rather clear is, Ilya Kovalchuk has to be the part of the new culture built by McLellan. He has to be willing to be the part of it and the Kings have to do everything possible for him to succeed. The new Head Coach is well aware of that. “Well, I have spent some time with Peter DeBoer, and if there was one place that Kovy really got going was New Jersey. And Peter shared some thoughts of him, how he positioned him a little bit. I’ll talk to Kovy about that, get his thoughts and feelings on it,” McLellan tried to get a helping hand from his new biggest rival, the San Jose Sharks Head Coach.

Kovalchuk doesn’t remember a ton of the Stanley Cup playoff experience, but he certainly remembers playing the Stanley Cup Final in 2012. Against the Kings. Losing and watching Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown hoisting the Stanley Cup at the Staples Center. He wanted to hoist the Cup in that building. Even though it looks improbable now, that scenario might still be somehow realistic.

“You got to bring a lot to the table. And we’re going to ask all of our players and Kovy to do that, and he can. He’s a good player. It’s his job and my job to get him to find his game in our structure,” McLellan wanted to make Kovalchuk well aware of his situation. With these insights from the new Head Coach in Los Angeles, Ilya Kovalchuk’s offseason will play a big part of what’s to come in October. Once the season begins, the Kings, McLellan and Kovalchuk have to be on the same page. As McLellan said, everyone got to bring a lot to the ice.

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