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As noted earlier, Parise has long been an important face in the Devils organization. Having joined the team just as the Scott Stevens-Scott Niedermayer Era was closing, Parise, the most talented player on the roster, seemed to become a leader by default.
He filled the role exceptionally, leading the Devils to tremendous regular season success. However, despite the Devils' being favored in many playoff series, Parise was never able to lead his team to any real postseason glory.
After contemplating why such a successful regular-season team could not find success in the playoffs for consecutive seasons, a logical conclusion is that the Devils lacked leadership. As the best player on the team, Parise cannot be held completely blameless for that lack of leadership.
Kovalchuk was given the captaincy in Atlanta, but not for the reason that most people assume. Nearly everyone will point out that Kovalchuk was simply the most talented player in Atlanta, ergo, he was made the captain.
In fact, Kovalchuk was awarded the captaincy at the request of the alternate captains, not because of his talent per se. This is a clear testament to the respect and high regard Kovalchuk’s teammates have for him.
Kovalchuk also brings an energy to the game that is absolutely unrivaled by anyone on the Devils. He wears his heart on his sleeve when it matters most. He will drop his gloves and fight to energize his squad and then show extreme disappointment in himself when he does not come through for his team in the clutch.
When he scores, he electrifies the entire arena. Everyone, even opposing fans, can see that Kovalchuk simply loves the game of hockey. And at the end of the day, is that not what you want from your captain? Don’t you want someone who can breathe life into a team by the sheer tyranny of his will and the blade of his stick? Nothing could possibly get a team more excited than watching their captain streak down the ice in a flash of red to score a game-changing goal.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Zach Parise and I love the way he plays the game, but Kovalchuk has both the experience of being a captain and the ability to single-handedly bring a battered and broken team back from the brink of humiliation, as evidenced by the second half of last season.
The team looked to Kovalchuk for answers last year and he answered their call. Anyone who watched even a game last December could see that it was Kovalchuk who assumed the leadership role on a team without direction and once he did, the team flourished.
Parise was a fine leader for sure, but an organization like New Jersey, with a history of winning championships, needs someone who can lead by instinct and passion; someone who is willing to do whatever it takes to win, whether it be fighting to energize a deflated team or scoring a clutch goal to seal a victory.
Scott Stevens, “The Captain,” was that kind of leader. He let his emotions bleed through his jersey— his passion for the game was the example by which he led. By no means am I saying that Ilya Kovalchuk is the leader that Scott Stevens was, but then again, neither is anyone else.
However, Kovalchuk has displayed exceptional leadership qualities as a Devil, and when push comes to shove, it is passion that drives leadership.