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Kovalchuk thriving with more ice time

Wednesday, 10.19.2011 / 4:33 PM ET / News
By Eric Marin
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Kovalchuk thriving with more ice time
Kovalchuk's seeing ice time in all situations.
(NHL/Getty Images)
Peter DeBoer saw plenty of Ilya Kovalchuk during their time in the Southeast Division – he was the coach in Florida for a season-plus while Kovalchuk was the dynamic scoring threat in Atlanta.

But DeBoer has gotten to know Kovalchuk better now that they're on the same side.

"He’s always an impressive player," DeBoer said Wednesday. "I’ve come to appreciate his commitment to winning and his willingness to do whatever he needs to do to win. The details of the game, I think watching him from the other bench, didn’t appreciate how willing he was to buy in to doing things defensively and playing in the last minute of a game with the lead, doing those type of things. He’s been very good."

Kovalchuk's off to a torrid start in 2011-12 with two goals, two assists in four games, including a game-winner and two deciding tallies in the shootout. He's seen more and more ice time as a result.

His 27:01 minutes per game are fourth in the League, making him the only forward in the top 55.

"For me, he’s earning our trust as a guy we can use in a lot of different situations," DeBoer said. "For me, through four games here, he’s been out with the net empty at the other end in a 5-on-6 situation and got the job done. He obviously is dangerous every time he’s on the ice. We’re going to give him some responsibility on the penalty kill, too. There are nights in the year when you’re sitting killing penalties for eight or 10 minutes, and a guy like that can’t get cold for that long."

Kovalchuk saw 32:04 of ice time in Saturday's shootout win over Nashville. DeBoer doesn't expect that to be the norm.

"Probably not," he said. "I got a few calls from friends around the League wondering if I was going to burn him out by Christmas. But he’s got a big engine and he seems to thrive on the responsibility."

It helps that Kovalchuk's in top shape. 

"He’s definitely someone that’s capable," DeBoer said. "We did a skate yesterday, a tough skate at the end of practice after being on the ice for over an hour. He was barely winded at the end of it. Other guys were doubled over. He just has that type of capability."