Drafted 15th overall in 1991 – right after Pat Peake – Alex Kovalev became a prolific, if somewhat mercurial, NHL scorer. He had the size and the skill to take over NHL games, but at times he also left you expecting more. Kovalev retired from professional hockey this week after spending the 2013-14 season playing in Switzerland.
His last NHL season was with the Florida Panthers in 2012-13 and he finishes his career with 430 goals and 1,029 points in 1,316 games. He reached the 30-goal mark three times and set a career-high of 44 goals in 2000-01 with the Pittsburgh Penguins. In 2002-03, Kovalev was one of the best players available on the trade market and he fetched the beleaguered Penguins Rico Fata, Mikael Samuelsson, Joel Bouchard and a few million dollars. Kind of underwhelming, wouldn’t you say?
He may not be beloved like Jaromir Jagr and Kovalev is certainly not a Hall of Famer, but he still brought us moments we’ll never forget. Here are five of them:
THE CRAZY-LONG SHIFT UNDER MIKE KEENAN
As an NHL sophomore, Kovalev had ‘Iron’ Mike Keenan as his coach with the New York Rangers. If you’re a young player and you give Keenan a reason to be a hard-ass, guess what, Mike Keenan is going to be a hard ass.
And in February of 1994, a day before Kovalev’s 21st birthday, he stayed on the ice too long for Keenan’s liking. So when Kovalev tried to come off after a shift that lasted more than a minute, Keenan wouldn’t let him on the bench. He forced Kovalev to finish the period and though the seven-plus straight minutes of ice time was supposed to send the player a message, Kovalev drew two penalties and scored a goal.
THE TIME HE DOMINATED ZDENO CHARA
In a 2008 first round playoff series against the rival Boston Bruins, Kovalev showed off just how dominating he could be with his natural size, strength and skill. With the game still tied 0-0, Kovalev got bumped by Zdeno Chara along the boards and lost his helmet. This must have sent a competitive shock to Kovalev’s system, because he instantly took over the play.
Kovalev pushed Chara back, out-muscled him for the puck and carried it into Boston’s zone. Once there, he passed it off, then got it back, and fired a backhander into the net. The Habs still lost this game 5-1, but went on to win the series. Kovalev scored five goals and 11 points in 12 playoff games that spring as the Habs lost in the second round to Philadelphia.
THE GUY HAD SICK HANDS
This video for Warrior is just ridiculous. Top shelf with one hand? Top shelf from the other end of the ice? Is this real? Once you see a guy put together a highlight video like this, there’s no un-seeing it.
THE UGLY, UGLY OVERTIME GOAL BY GLEN MURRAY
Speaking of things you can’t un-see…
Kovalev’s career had its low moments too, and it doesn’t get much more embarrassing than it did in a 2004 playoff series against Boston. In the second overtime of Game 4, Kovalev was slashed across the hands as he had the puck in the neutral zone and totally gave up on it. The Bruins were off on a change, so they didn’t immediately pounce, but Kovalev (whether you think he embellished an injury or not) just left the puck there. It looked like he was out of the play, so Sheldon Souray skated over to recover the puck. But Kovalev turned back towards it and bumped into his own defenseman. Murray jumped on it and made no mistake on the breakaway.
At the time, this was a play Kovalev took a ton of heat for because the loss put No. 7 Montreal down 3-1 in the series against No. 2 Boston. But they managed to come all the way back and knocked the Bruins out in Game 7 – a game in which Kovalev logged two assists.
THAT TIME HE DESTROYED DARCY TUCKER
In a March 2006 game, Kovalev was cutting across the ice in Toronto’s zone with the puck and Darcy Tucker caught him with a high elbow shot. When Kovalev recovered, the puck found him again, as it usually does for star players, and he started skating around with it. When he came upon Tucker a second time, scoring a goal became secondary.
Kovalev skated right at Tucker and, rather than dance around him like he did to so many other pylons in his career, the big Russian lowered the boom, knocked Tucker straight to the ice and started a scrum. Yet again in this clip we see Kovalev’s strength.
Kovalev had many memorable moments – both good and bad – in his NHL career. He’s a player you either appreciate for his natural ability, or loathe because you thought he could have accomplished so much more. Opinions on Kovalev will always be divided, but there’s no denying that when he applied himself, Kovalev was capable of dominating like few others can.
What is your favorite memory of Kovalev’s career?