Nikolai Kovalenko has turned into quite the scorer in the KHL over the last 18 months. Will that translate when he crosses the pond to join the Colorado Avalanche at the end of the season? We’ll see. I do know one thing he will bring when he joins the team.
Attitude. And not in a negative way.
The 24 year old prospect returned to the lineup for Torpedo on Wednesday after missing nearly six weeks due to an apparent wrist injury. It took him absolutely no time to make an impact.
Just seconds into his first shift of the game, he raced across the ice to throw a hit on an opposition defenseman. That got him into the game, and 30 seconds later, he gave his team the lead.
Nikolai Kovalenko is back. And what a comeback!
This is his first game since September 30 (injury). pic.twitter.com/RG0weErtDX
— KHL (@khl_eng) November 8, 2023
Now, calling the defense on this goal “questionable” might be putting it lightly, but one thing it does showcase is the extra effort you always get from Kovalenko. Even at the end of his shift, he sticks with it, battles through the defender, and finds the puck in his feet. At the end of the play, you see some of the skill, as he doesn’t just tap it into the net, he puts it where the goaltender certainly isn’t going to stop it, all from the ground.
He was just getting started.
In the first period alone, Kovalenko threw five hits, running around with reckless abandon. During his absence, Torpedo missed him. They struggled to generate the same amount of offense they had prior to his injury, and the team dropped from first place in the conference down to fourth. On Wednesday evening, he immediately made his presence felt all over the ice.
The Avs brought in Wood and Colton to add some physicality to their bottom six. That's one of the reasons I like Kovalenko. He plays with a real attitude.
5 hits in his first period back, led forwards in TOI. Still not sure his offense translates, but he's got anger in his game. pic.twitter.com/TfJaWkzV0K
— Evan Rawal (@evanrawal) November 8, 2023
In the second period, Kovalenko added a primary assist, and a powerplay goal of his own, leading Torpedo to a 4-1 victory.
After the game, he was given the player of the game award from his teammates.
In total, here is Kovalenko’s stat line from his return to play:
- 2 goals
- 1 assist
- 2 shots on goal
- 7 hits
- 1 penalty drawn
- 16:54 time-on ice, including 2:55 shorthanded, which led the team
Just another day at the office in the KHL for Kovalenko.
Maybe I talk about Kovalenko a little bit too much, but I genuinely believe he can play in the NHL right now and help the Avalanche. With the struggles of Jonathan Drouin and Tomas Tatar this early in the season, having a guy like this in your back pocket for the end of the season could be this organization’s secret weapon.
There are real questions about how much offense from Kovalenko can translate to the NHL, but he brings a heck of a lot more to that to the table. I have no doubt that Bednar will latch on to the young forward’s intensity, physicality, attitude, and effort, but joining a team at the end of a season is always tricky. He’ll have to earn the trust of the staff quickly, and that might be difficult to do at that time of the year.
Either way, it’s free depth for the Avalanche, as they look to make another run at the Stanley Cup. Kovalenko is set to join the team after his season with Torpedo ends, and is signed through the end of next season.