Parise or Kovalchuk Should Consider Switching Sides

Philadelphia Flyers left wing Scott Hartnell (19) gets checked by New Jersey Devils left wing Patrik Elias (26) as Devils left wing Ilya Kovalchuk (17) tries to control puck during the first period of the Flyers 2-1 win over the Devils in the first round of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Prudential Center in Newark, NJ

I’m always amazed how NHL teams will let their rosters fall out of balance. For example, how did the Devils not consider the ramifications of investing so much in left wings?

The Devils have a lot of money and talent in Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, both of whom play the left side.

Last year, coach John MacLean tried to move Kovalchuk to the right side. It didn’t go very well for Kovalchuk and he soon found himself back on the other side of the ice. MacLean was moved off of the bench.

This season, new coach Peter DeBoer is keeping Kovalchuk and Parise in their natural positions. Parise has been playing with Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora, still on a tryout contract. Other than Elias and Sykora calling Parise Jason, the line seems very effective. Kovalchuk has been playing with Jacob Josefson and Nick Palmieri on a much less exciting line.

But having so much talent in the same forward position could burn the Devils down the line. As good as Sykora has looked in the pre-season, is he really a top line wing anymore? He has just two seasons with over 30 goals, and the last one was in 2003. What will he look like over the grind of the NHL season? History tells us Sykora’s production will eventually recede.

That will leave Elias, Parise, and Kovalchuk on two separate, incomplete lines.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to try and get the three players working together?

There is a precedent. While Elias now finds himself the Devils’ top line center, it’s not his natural position. Elias, like Parise and Kovalchuk, is a left wing. But, due to the Devils’ reluctance to sign a top-line center over the past few seasons, Elias has learned the position.

Now that Elias has made the switch, perhaps it’s time to see if Parise or Kovalchuk can, too.

The Penguins are experimenting with moving James Neal from the left side to the right side, trying to increase his production. Neal doesn’t sound thrilled about the decision to move him, but he has acknowledged it might help with his scoring, or lack thereof as a Penguin.

I can’t imagine Kovalchuk or Parise would be excited to move (Kovalchuk especially, since the right wing experiment last season went so poorly), but it’s something DeBoer should start playing with. If the Devils intend to retain Parise long-term, eventually, the success of the team is going to depend on the ability of Parise and Kovalchuk to play together.

Elias learned to play center, taking one for the team. Now it’s time for Parise or Kovalchuk to start learning the right side. Neither has to become a permanent right wing, but the team needs the two to learn how to play with each other at even strength. The Devils just don’t have enough centers (Travis Zajac is out with a torn Achilles tendon) to fully flesh out the talents of their two left wings.