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The Side No One Expected

Brian Deakyne, staff writer

When the New Jersey Devils acquired Ilya Kovalchuk on February 4th, they were clearly looking for a big-name scorer to push the at-the-time struggling Devils past their goal-scoring slump.

Now, a good two months later, Kovalchuk has made more of a splash than anyone would have expected.

In twenty games in Newark, Kovalchuk has scored only eight goals and tallied twelve assists for New Jersey, who have been see-sawing with the Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the Atlantic Division.

What has come of Kovalchuk, however, is a leader-like mentality; a trait many people didn't expect from the man who turned down $100 million to remain in Atlanta.

In just his second game in the red and black, Kovalchuk scrapped with long-time Devils enemy, Sean Avery, immediately winning over the fans in New Jersey.

Still, despite scoring only eight goals, there have been glimpses and moments that prove why he is often touted as the best scorer in the league. Several times the 26-year old Russian has taken the puck with a full head of steam and gone coast to coast, only to barely miss the net or be turned away.

But this man isn't all about scoring.

With a 3-2 lead in a crucial game Saturday night in Montreal, after the Canadiens pulling their goalie, Kovalchuk out-hustled Andrei Kostitsyn for a loose puck and, instead of drilling home the clinching, empty-net goal which would have been the easy move, he made a little drop pass for teammate Brian Rolston, who nailed home the goal.

After the goal, Kovalchuk scooped up the puck, much to the surprise of everyone, and it was Rolston's 700th career point.

Weird, a man who had been with the Devils for not even two months would know of such a milestone that even caught Devils' broadcaster Mike Emerick by surprise.

Earlier last week, in a 4-3 shootout loss against the New York Rangers, after a first=period fight between Andrew Peters of the Devils and Jody Shelley of New York, it was Kovalchuk to pick up all of Peters' accessories that were tossed about the ice, all-the-while giving him a high five and having an innocent smile across his face.

When he was brought aboard, Kovalchuk looked like nothing more than a half-year rental deal to try to help Jersey's Team reach the Stanley Cup.

Not looking like much of a rental deal now, right?

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