If there’s anything to be gleaned from the New Jersey Devils through their first four games of the season, it’s that head coach Peter DeBoer is skating the everloving snot out of Ilya Kovalchuk.
Kovalchuk heads into tonight’s contest against the Sharks averaging an eye-popping 27 minutes per game, fourth-most in the NHL. Only three players average more, and they’re all defensemen. The only forward that’s even remotely close to Kovalchuk is LA Kings C Anze Kopitar, and he’s at 22:43 a night.
That’s almost four-and-a-half minutes less than Kovi.
“The season just started, so it’s too early to say anything, but it works,” Kovalchuk told NHL.com. “The team played well and the coach decided to play me a lot of minutes. I was ready for it and I like to play a lot.”
The imbalanced allotment of ice time might seem strange, but it’s hardly new for DeBoer. While he didn’t have a ton of talented players in Florida, he certainly made use of the ones he did have. Jay Bouwmeester averaged 27 a night under Deboer and Nathan Horton averaged over 21. Last season, Stephen Weiss averaged over 20 minutes a game for the first time in his career.
But all those pale in comparison to Kovalchuk, who will enter some rare company should he continue this pace. Since the lockout, only a handful of forwards have averaged over 24 minutes with Martin St. Louis (2007-08) and Rod Brind’Amour (2005-06) setting the high marks at 24:17 per game.