Montreal Canadiens: Alex Kovalev - NHL's Most Improved Player

Bradley KarpCorrespondent IMay 16, 2008

This NHL season gave us plenty to cheer about, from Alexander Ovechkin’s 65 goal campaign to the stellar play of young stars on teams like Chicago and Edmonton.


It has also proved to us, that hard work can turnaround a career.


Like every year certain players exceed expectations, and others don’t seem able to meet them, every year certain players improve, and others fall to the wayside.


This year’s most improved player is Montreal Canadien Alex Kovalev.


When the Canadiens sent Jozef Balej and a second round pick to the New York Rangers for the skilled Russian superstar, they thought that they knew what they were getting.


Unfortunately the superstar winger, who had only failed to post more than 50 points in 65 games twice, could not find the score sheet with the Habs. In the 2006-2007 season, Kovalev’s struggles continued.


He recorded only 47 points in 73 games and the Canadiens did not make the playoffs which many blamed on Kovalev. Not hardly enough execution for someone with a salary of over $4 million per year. The die hard Habs fans called for a trade or his head. Which ever came first.


After the Canadiens playoff hopes were dashed by their rival Toronto Maple Leafs on the last game of the season, Alex Kovalev went home, hungry for success. 


He set himself up in his basement with hours of his old game film, hoping to again find the spark that brought him so much success early on in his career.


He spent extra time at the gym working out with a plan given to him by the Canadiens head trainer Scott Livingston. The program was aimed at improving his explosiveness, muscle control and power.


All these things combined to give Kovalev and, more importantly, the Montreal Canadiens a new look.


With 35 goals and 84 points this season, Kovalev ranked 11th in points and 15th in goals. He also led the league in powerplay points with 47 and finished the season ranked fifth in power play goals with 17.


He led the Canadiens in all major offensive categories, including goals, points, assists, and most importantly, plus minus. He was plus-18 on the season, which means that he did his part defensively as well.


Turning on the goal light is not the only thing Kovalev has been up to this year. He has taken many of the Canadiens' young Russian players under his wing and helped them on and off the ice. For many foreign players, it is harder to adjust to North American culture than it is to adjust to North American hockey.


Kovalev has helped Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Markov and the Kostitsyn brothers. They all had career years.


The fans no longer call for Kovalev’s head, but are instead chanting his name on a regular basis. With the team finishing first in the Eastern Conference and the team having made a serious run at the Cup, it seems that Kovalev is from Russia with love.