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In Ilya Kovalchuk, Kings to face one who got away

Forward chose to re-sign with the New Jersey Devils but considered joining the Kings as a free agent in 2010.

May 29, 2012|By Lisa Dillman and Helene Elliott
  • Devil star Ilya Kovalcuk takes a break during a workout Tuesday.
Devil star Ilya Kovalcuk takes a break during a workout Tuesday. (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images )

NEWARK, N.J. -- The nearly a King?

Well, it was about 50-50 — if that, maybe — that the Kings were going to win the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes in a dizzying few weeks in 2010.

The summer of Ilya resulted in the high-priced free-agent forward opting to stay with the New Jersey Devils, signing a 15-year, $101-million contract. Kings captain Dustin Brown and defenseman Matt Greene were involved in the recruitment effort, briefly.

Greene described it as a cup of coffee and a drive from downtown to the Kings' headquarters in El Segundo.

"That was it for my part. I was cut loose," Greene said Tuesday. "A good guy, good player. It obviously worked out for him here."

Brown downplayed their role, too.

"I was probably in the dark like everyone else," he said. "You knew it was the Devils and us. So it was 50-50. Did I have a gut feeling one way or the other? Not really. I didn't spend enough time with him to really get a read."

Kovalchuk was sent to the Devils from Atlanta at the trade deadline in 2010 and that helped him make the call. Lou Lamoriello, Devils president and general manager, acquired Kovalchuk in a multi-player deal, which also involved a first-round pick going to the Thrashers.

"I think the biggest difference was because I got traded to Jersey and played here for two months," he said. "The way people treated me here, I really liked it. I knew that Lou and ownership would put the winning team on the ice."

Kovalchuk may be leading the Devils in scoring in the playoffs with seven goals and 18 points, but he said that being more involved in penalty killing helped his game.

"I think he's responded very well and we wouldn't be here without his game the way it is," Coach Peter DeBoer said. "His game has been great in all areas.

"I use him in the last two minutes of the game with the goalie out or being down a goal. We've backed off his penalty killing. But even in the first couple rounds he was killing penalties, but that was more to try and manage his minutes with the number of games we've been playing. He's done it all."

Department of ex-Kings

Alexei Ponikarovsky's stay with the Kings was brief and hardly successful, as he produced only five goals and 15 points in 61 games last season. He signed a one-year deal with the Carolina Hurricanes as a free agent but was traded to the Devils on Jan 21 for a prospect and a draft pick.

"I guess I got blessed that this team picked me up and I got off to a good start right away," said Ponikarovsky, who had seven goals and 18 points for New Jersey in 33 games and has contributed a goal and six points in 18 playoff games.

Peter Harrold, squeezed out of the Kings' plans because of their depth on defense, signed with the Devils as a free agent last summer but spent most of the season with their Albany (N.Y.) farm team. He was called up March 26 and has stuck with the team, averaging 14 minutes 29 seconds of playing time in 14 games as part of the third defense pair.

"I got an opportunity to play. That's what I want to do," he said. "It was tough sitting out there. Good for them for making it this far but I'm happy here. ... Obviously, they've got a real good squad over there. I needed to go somewhere else to re-establish myself and it turns out I ended up picking the right team and we're in a pretty good spot here."

Harrold said he has kept in touch with several members of the Kings, but not lately.

"We're on radio silence the next couple of weeks," he said.

Dave Taylor's legacy

Dean Lombardi, Kings president and general manager, went out of his way recently to make the point about Dave Taylor's lasting contributions to the franchise.

That started with drafting the likes of Brown, center Anze Kopitar and goalie Jonathan Quick. But Taylor, the former Kings GM who now works for theSt. Louis Blues, was quick to pass the praise like a puck.

Al Murray, the Kings' director of amateur scouting, "was the one who is responsible for those guys," said Taylor. Kopitar was drafted 11th overall in 2005.

"Al was really excited about him," Taylor said. "I saw him in the world championships when he was 17. It was difficult getting a read as he was playing for Slovenia, but he was scoring goals against Finland and Czech [Republic]."

Kopitar was among the "100 or so kids" the Kings interviewed at the NHL combine and Taylor said: "He walked into the room a big, bold, raw-looking physical kid, and he was one of the most respectful kids I ever met. You dream of a big No. 1 center like that."

In Brown they felt like they knew "we had drafted a future team captain." And Quick just had raw athletic ability. "I felt with proper coaching there was a real upside," Taylor said.


Marcel Dionne told the NHL Network that he plans to attend Game 4 in Los Angeles on June 6. Also expected to attend is the Kings' first captain, Bob Wall, and his wife, Margaret. The Kings are flying the couple in for the occasion. Wayne Gretzky previously said he planned to attend Game 3.

Times staff writer Chris Foster contributed to this story

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