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Ilya Kovalchuk is making Russian players look really good

May 27, 2012, 2:36 PM EDT

Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise Getty Images

Remember earlier in the playoffs when Russian players were getting a bad rap? Alexander Radulov was out partying, Alexander Semin had his usual ups and downs, and Ilya Bryzgalov had a rough playoffs.

Through all that negativity and occasional needless potshots at Russian players, Ilya Kovalchuk has prevailed for New Jersey. His 18 points leads everyone in the postseason and after never getting out of the first round in his career before this year, he’s become a force to be reckoned with.

Coach Peter DeBoer tells Katie Strang of ESPN.com says Russians get an unfair knock and the Devils couldn’t have made it this far without him.

“Superstars often get bad raps, especially Russian superstars,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said before the series began. “That couldn’t be further from the case. This guy could be born in Canada or the United States and you wouldn’t know the difference other than his accent.

“He’s here to win. He’s a team-first guy. He’s very unselfish and he’s just a great person. I don’t think that’s common knowledge around the league.”

Kovalchuk’s play in the postseason has shown why he’s one of the best players in the league and why the Devils gave him a monster 15-year contract two summers ago. The whole stigma of Russian players being “enigmatic” is pretty silly to begin with (Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk seem to be OK) but Kovalchuk is helping to make sure this one talking point goes away for a while.

  1. alexb64 - May 27, 2012 at 3:12 PM

    He’ll only need to go 1 game without a point for the “Euro players can’t come up big when it counts” chatter to come up though. You’re only allowed to not score if you’re American or Canadian.

    • sabatimus - May 27, 2012 at 6:22 PM

      That’s reason #3453453560 why I don’t listen to Mike Milbury anymore.

  2. sergeikremlin - May 27, 2012 at 3:17 PM

    While Russian players do get stereotyped, it all depends on the individual. You have the uber-talented, yet low compete level Semin’s, Zherdev’s and Krutov’s (if you want to get old school) at one end of the spectrum, and the complete world class, hard working Stanley Cup Champions like Datsyuk, Malkin and Larionov (to even out the old school) at the other end.

    Kovalchuk has come through big for Russia in international tournaments, and after spending the majority of his career with the now defunct Atlanta Thrashers, he is proving he can be clutch for an NHL club too.

    Now that we’re into 2012, and over the past few years, a new breed of European player has become more prevalent. This past year Gabriel Landeskog showed us what a compete level he has, and look for Nail Yakupov to continue that trend with his high motor next season.

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