FullTilt Legends: Alexei Kovalev

Alexei Kovalev, NYR (NHL)

Alexei Kovalev is a household name to all New York Ranger fans, being a significant part of a 1994 Stanley Cup Champion team that erased a 54 year curse.  I was at the March 24th game this season against the Phoenix Coyotes, and Alexei Kovalev was in the building.  The Madison Square Garden crowd, as expected, gave him a rousing ovation.  I was 10, when the Rangers won the Cup, and I remember myself idolizing Mark Messier and my brother absolutely loved Alexei Kovalev.  Fulltilt takes a closer look at the great career of Alexei Kovalev.

Alexei Kovalev was drafted 15th overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft.  Kovalev was the 1st Russian player ever drafted in the 1st round at the time.  Upon being drafted, he returned to Russia to play 26 games with the Moscow Dynamo, and had an impressive 16 goals and 8 assists in those 26 games.

Oddly enough, Kovalev was on that team with another future Ranger, the late Alexander Karpovtsev. In the 1992 Winter Olympics, Alexei Kovalev would start off his career by winning a Gold Medal with the Russian National Team.  Alexei Kovalev was done in Russia after the 91-92 season with the Dynamo, and headed to Binghamton, which was the Rangers minor league affiliate at the time.  In Kovalev’s last 13 games with Binghamton before he was called up to Broadway he had an astonishing 13 goals and 11 assists in 13 games.

Kovalev wasn’t done scoring when he was called up.  In 65 games in the 92-93 season, Alexei Kovalev had 20 goals and 18 assists for 38 points.  Kovalev could not only score, but he was an above-average passer.  Not to be lost in the ability to appear on the score sheet, Kovalev was a dynamic stick-handler.  At times, he appeared as if the puck was on a string.  Kovalev also skated with such fluidity that his skates seemed to barely touch the ice.  Aside from a great individual season by Kovalev and a few other Rangers, the Rangers finished last in the Patrick Division that season.  That was the launching pad for a storybook year that was soon to come.

The 1993-94 season for the New York Rangers was their 68th season in existence and another year of hearing about “The Curse.” The Rangers were an abundantly talented team that couldn’t seem to put it together, but that would change in dramatic fashion.  The Rangers won 52 games and the President’s Trophy, which is given to the team with the most points.  The Rangers scored 299 goals and allowed only 231.  Alexei Kovalev played 76 games for the Rangers, recording 23 goals and 33 assists with a +18.

A nice regular season concluded only to be dwarfed by a great postseason. Kovalev played 23 games in that memorable Stanley Cup run, registering 9 goals and 12 assists for 21 points, 3rd best on the team.  Only Leetch and Messier had more points in the playoffs.   Kovalev’s biggest point may have been the assist to Adam Graves in game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals that gave the Rangers a huge 2-0 lead.  Kovalev was a special part in ending the 54 year black cloud that hung over this franchise.

The following season was a season hampered by a lockout in which Kovalev returned to Russia to play for Tolyatti Lada. Kovalev played 12 games, registering 8 goals and 8 assists.  Kovalev would return to the Rangers when the lockout concluded in January. Where he would play three more full seasons on Broadway, recording 50-plus points in two of those seasons.  14 games into the 98-99 season, Kovalev was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Petr Nedved.

After his trade to the Penguins, Kovalev picked up 46 points in 63 games.  Alexei Kovalev spent 5 seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, scoring 20 goals or more in each of those seasons.  In the 2000-01 campaign, Kovalev recorded 44 goals and 51 assists for 95 points, Kovalev’s best NHL season.

Alexei Kovalev would have a reunion with the Rangers in 2003, when he was re-acquired on February 10th, 2003 in a 8 player deal with Pittsburgh.  Kovalev’s reunion didn’t go as planned, as he hit the goal column only 23 times in 90 combined games from 2003-2004 with the Rangers.  Kovalev was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens for Jozef Balej on March 13th, 2004, where he had an excellent playoffs, registering 10 points in 11 games.

Alexei Kovalev would return to Russia in the 2004-2005 season due to the NHL lockout.  Kovalev played 35 games with the Kazan Ak-Bars, recording 23 points in those games.  The NHL resumed in 2005-2006 and Kovalev returned to Montreal where he would play the next 4 seasons, registering 47 points or higher in each season.  In 2007-2008 Kovalev had an 84 point season in which he registered 35 goals and 49 assists.

After Kovalev’s last season with the Canadiens in 2008-2009, he would sign with the Ottawa Senators in the offseason.  Kovalev spent a season and a half with the Senators before being traded back to the Pittsburgh Penguins, on his 38th birthday.  Kovalev registered just 2 goals in 20 games with the Penguins.

In 2011-2012, Kovalev returned to Russia, yet again, this time playing for Moscow Oblast Atlant.  Kovalev recorded just 6 points in 22 games, hitting the goal column once.

Alexei Kovalev would take one more shot at the NHL in 2012-2013, signing a one year deal with the Florida Panthers.  Kovalev played 14 games for the Panthers, recording 2 goals and 3 assists before hanging up his skates.

Alexei Kovalev’s professional career includes 1316 games played, 430 goals, 599 assists for a career total of 1029 points during the regular season.  Postseason numbers aren’t too shabby either, 123 games played, 45 goals, 55 assists for 100 points.

Alexei Kovalev is a model of class, consistency and resurgence.  There were a few times in his career when people said he was done, but he just kept playing and kept producing.  Alexei Kovalev will forever be remembered by Ranger fans, not only for flying up the right wing, but as an important part of a special season that ended “The Curse.”