Projecting Ilya Kovalchuk

There may be no fan base more a ready to put last season behind them than that of the New Jersey Devils. What started as a season of optimism and wild expectations, quickly plummeted into a pit of salary-cap constraints, injuries, firings and abject despair. Shiny new free agent Ilya Kovalchuk, brought in to lift the Devils’ offense to new heights, instead helped drag it to new lows -- the team finished with the worst goals-for-per-game average of any team since the lockout. And it wasn’t particularly close.

So this season, what can we expect? With the Insider Summer Skate series heading to Newark Thursday, Hockey Prospectus’s season projections show a rebound year for Kovalchuk, who did start to put it together under Jacques Lemaire in the season’s second half. Here’s what author Timo Seppa had to say about Kovy:

“For whatever reason, Kovalchuk's shooting percentage is down significantly in his 108 games while in a Devils' sweater. A 15.1 percent career shooter when traded from Atlanta, Kovalchuk only shot at an 11.5 percent clip for New Jersey.”

A little regression to the mean should help there. Plus, with Zach Parise back in the fold, and healthy, it’s a reasonable expectation that the offense will bounce back significantly in 2011-12 -- though Travis Zajac’s injury might be a bit of a concern. The bigger question still seems to be the blue line. To that end, prospect analyst Corey Pronman focuses on the Devils’ top draft pick from 2011, No. 4-overall selection Adam Larsson:

“He doesn't stand out in any one particular area, but he's seemingly above average at every aspect of the game. He can skate, pass, handle the puck and shoot and is an intelligent player.

“It isn't that hard to see him being a steady force on the Devils' first pairing for many seasons.”

That sounds like precisely the kind of prospect the Devils could use. We’ll have to wait until training camp starts to see for sure though.