The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Mile High Hockey community. Eight writers and 320 readers ranked players under the age of 25 as of September 1, 2018 in the Colorado Avalanche organization. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. Now, we’ll count down each of the 25 players ranked.
It was an eventful year for Nikolai Kovalenko, son of former Colorado Avalanche and Quebec Nordique Andrei Kovalenko. The 5-foot-10 and 174 lbs left shot right wing was one of the risers going from unranked last year to cracking the top 20 on this year’s list. It took a year to fully appreciate what gem the Avalanche unearthed from from the 2018 draft at 171st overall.
His year first began in August at the Junior Club World Cup with Kovalenko’s junior team Loko which had won the MHL championship with him the previous year. There he won MVP honors after posting eight points in five games and served as great momentum before beginning his first full season in the KHL.
Kovalenko got the chance to shine on the international stage where many saw him play for the first time at the World Junior Championship as he was part of Russia’s bronze medal winning squad with three points in six games. His short handed tally where he crashed into the end boards after was one of the more dramatic goals for team Russia and left Kovalenko banged up for the rest of the tournament. Still, he only sat out one game even if he wasn’t able to play to his full puck hound capacity.
His main duties on the year were playing in the KHL for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl where he scored five goals and an assist in 33 games and played around a dozen minutes per contest. Don’t let the point total of six fool, Kovalenko was used in a support role not uncommon to other teenagers in the league. In fact, Kovalenko had the same production in the KHL as teammate Florida Panthers first round pick Grigori Denisenko.
After Lokomotiv was eliminated from the playoffs in the second round Kovalenko returned to his familiar junior team once again to help win another MHL championship. There he was again a top performer with nine points in 11 games en route to Loko’s second title in as many years.
Kovalenko is an exciting prospect for the Avalanche because he is gaining valuable professional experience at a young age and should contribute at the NHL level when he decides to sign a NHL contract and play in North America. The expected timeline on such move is after his contract with Lokomotiv expires in two years.
Kovalenko plays with a relentless tenacity in which he does not need a large role to be effective. He combines a ferocity with hard work and grit plus a touch of skill into a very intriguing package. All of these qualities are on display in this goal below which he scored in the KHL last October.
In the coming year the hope is that Kovalenko can earn a little more ice time and start producing more on the scoreboard in the KHL while gaining more of that experience he will need before making the transition to the NHL.