by PuckStopsHere on 03/04/09 at 02:46 AM ET
Since the beginning of January 2009, the best player in the NHL has likely been Ilya Kovalchuk of the Atlanta Thrashers. He leads the NHL with 23 goals in that time frame. He has not been noticed because he plays in the hockey purgatory of Atlanta. The Thrashers are the second worst team in the standings (only the New York Islanders are behind them) and are well out of the playoffs.
Kovalchuk has climbed to seventh in the NHL scoring race after a slow start. He has 71 points going into tonight’s games.
Kovalchuk is a star player and a top goal scorer. If he is ever given a talented team to play with and a good passing centreman for a linemate, he could do some amazing things.
About a year after the lockout when the NHL started to sell the narrative that the NHL’s future was a battle between Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby to see who would be the best player in the league, a lot of people suggested Kovalchuk could be a darkhorse third candidate. In 2005/06 he scored 52 goals and 98 points as a 22 year old. It certainly seemed possible.
He hasn’t really done it yet. However, his days in Atlanta may be ending. He is an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2010. Imagine if he moves to a more talented team that better suits his talents. Kovalchuk is a very good goal scorer. He may not be good enough to carry a poor team on his back and he has been hampered by some very poor teams, but he could be able to score 60 or even 70 goals in a season with the right centreman. That would be interesting to see.
In the meantime Ilya Kovalchuk plays very well for the weak Atlanta Thrashers. Nobody has scored more goals than him in 2009 and few people noticed since Atlanta is so far out of the race.
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