Lemaire likes Ilya

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

It still doesn’t look quite right, Ilya Kovalchuk in a New Jersey Devils uniform.

But the former franchise face of the Atlanta Thrashers is getting used to his new surroundings with the Devils.

Kovalchuk’s slowly settling in, with three goals and five assists in eight games since coming over in a trade from the Thrashers in early February.

“He’s been very good; he’s getting chances every game,” said Devils head coach Jacques Lemaire, prior to Sunday’s meeting with the Edmonton Oilers.

“The games when he doesn’t score, it’s not because he’s not getting the chances,. He’s been playing very well. He’s a player that when he gets the puck, the other team feels that someone is coming. They back up a little bit, because he’s got great speed, he’s strong and he’s got a great shot, so they think defence.”

Kovalchuk, 26, has 34 goals and 32 assists in 66 games between Atlanta and New Jersey this season.

A two-time 50-goal scorer, he reportedly turned down a seven-year, $70-million deal from the Thrashers in order to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

According to Lemaire, Kovalchuk has not had any difficulty fitting into the Devils dressing room.

“I don’t see why it would be tough,” Lemaire said.

“There is always a little bit of an adjustment a player has to do, but I think he fits in well with the guys.

“He’s a good guy too, so there is no reason why the guys wouldn’t mix in well.”

The Devils went into Sunday’s game fourth in the Eastern Conference standings, three points back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for top spot in the Atlantic Division.

Kovalchuk gives the Devils another weapon in a lineup that already features Zach Parise, Jaime Langenbrunner, Travis Zajac and goaltender Martin Brodeur.

“He’s really strong on his skates,” Lemaire said. “He makes great plays, plays that you don’t expect.

“He’s very positive, I like his demeanour and he wants to win. He’s a good guy to have on your team.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca


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