Ilya Kovalchuk Can Thank Martin St. Louis for the Failed Right Wing Experiment

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 30: Ilya Kovalchuk  of the New Jersey Devils and Michal Handzus  of the Los Angeles Kings battle along the boards for the puck in the first period at Staples Center on October 30, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Damien Cox has an interesting item on Ilya Kovalchuk’s struggles in New Jersey.

He blames Kovalchuk’s time spent on his off wing.

That’s not what’s so interesting. Most people picked up that Kovalchuk wasn’t comfortable playing right wing for the Devils.

But Cox traces the origins of the off wing experiment to Devils assistant coach Adam Oates, who found success moving Marty St. Louis to his off wing in Tampa the season before.

According to Cox, Oates’ rationale for flipping players makes sense:

Oates’ theory, that he backs up with videotape evidence, is that left-handed players need to play on the left side and right-handed players on the right side because it’s more important than ever in the faster, modern NHL that wingers be moving north-south with the puck, rather than cutting into the middle of the ice as many players who skate on their off-wing are prone to do.

Kovalchuk bristled at the switch, though, and the reality of the situation is, when you pay a player like Kovalchuk as much as the Devils do, you need him to be both happy and comfortable.

It’s interesting how some players can switch positions more easily than others. Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin seems to have always flipped between center and right wing. In fact, coach Dan Bylsma was preparing to move Malkin to Jordan Staal’s wing before Staal’s most recent injury, a foot infection.

And Atlanta’s Dustin Byfuglien asked to be moved to defenseman from forward and he’s been incredible.

Getting back to the Devils, though, I’m curious if Kovalchuk was ever told the reason he was being asked to play a different position. I would think St. Louis’ success after the switch would have made for a compelling reason to invest in the experiment.

Devils’ coach John MacLean doesn’t seem to be a huge fan of talking to his players, though. Monday night Jason Arnott was benched and no one told him why.

The communication between the coaching staff and the players hasn’t seemed great so far and you can see all of the drama it’s created. And we’re not even through the first quarter of the season.