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New Man in Newark

By: Brian Deakyne

Late Thursday night, the New Jersey Devils made a somewhat unexpected, but pleasant, splash in the raffle for Ilya Kovalchuk of the Atlanta Thrashers. The Devils acquired him for defensemen Johnny Oduya, forward Niclas Bergfors, Patrice Cormier and a first round pick.

Kovalchuk, who is fifth in the NHL in goals with 31 adds a new scoring dimension that New Jersey has needed badly. Over the past 11 games, the Devils are 3-7-1, averaging just over 1.6 goals per game in that strand of games. With numbers like that, it's no wonder General Manager Lou Lamariello made the move to land one of the most talented scorers in the league.

Still, the Devils may just be the perfect fit for this high-flying 26-year old Russian. New Jersey's head coach Jacques Lemaire has been known for shuffling the lines in this, his second stint, behind the bench for the Devils.

With that in mind, Kovalchuk will undoubtedly play with the variety of players already in New Jersey's habitually-successful organization. The most-likely setup for Kovalchuk will be him playing along with Dainus Zubrus and Jamie Langenbrunner; a very fitting trio. Zubrus plays well with almost any goal-scorer, which was evident last week when he played with Parise after coming back from a broken kneecap, assisting on both of Parise's goals in a 5-4 win vs Toronto. Langenbrunner would also benefit well from playing with the newly-acquired Devil, seeing as the captain is much more of a scrappy, 'in-the-corners' type of player who needs a scorer he can dish the puck to. Langenbrunner also has a shot of his own, making this line very threatening.

On the other side of the coin, if the Devils were to go into another scoring slump, there's no question who Lemaire would put together--a line of Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, and Ilya Kovalchuk. With Parise, who has 26 goals this season, and Kovalchuk, 31, this is a line that could be noted as the most feared scoring duo in the entire conference, if not league (for those of you who struggle with math, that's a total of 57 goals). Even Zajac, who has some scoring touch, as he has added 16 goals of his own to go along with his 29 assists. This line shouldn't be expected on a daily basis, but as aforementioned, if the Devils need a goal, these three men will be on the ice.

Yet, the player who will profit the most from this acquisition hasn't seen the ice in almost a month. Patrik Elias, the captain of the Czech Republic in the upcoming Olympics will blend in perfectly with Kovalchuk. Even in the years the Devils won the cup, Elias had been missing the wing-man that would be able to score at ease. Now, those days are over. Elias has the best hands on the team, and having a player that can score playing alongside him will make this arguably the most dangerous play-making duo in the league. Elias and Kovalchuk love to play the European style, fast-paced hockey style--a type of play that will be difficult to contain with these two Euro's playing together. This is the duo I would tell everyone to watch when he returns from his concussion--they can carry the Devils.

With this move on the market, the Devils will look to quickly put behind their struggles as of late, starting tomorrow, taking on the new-look Leafs for the third time this week.


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