The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Mile High Hockey community. Eight writers have ranked players under the age of 25 as of August 1, 2021 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.
Nikolai Kovalenko’s name might sound a bit familiar. That’s because his father, Andrei, spent a few seasons in Quebec with the Nordiques before becoming part of the Patrick Roy trade.
The US born Russian winger was drafted in the 6th round of the 2018 draft (#171 overall). After putting up nearly a point per game in both the regular season and playoffs in the second tier of Russian hockey (MHL) in his draft season, winning a title. Kovalenko has regularly featured in the KHL since, although he did get a second MHL ring with a post-season run after his initial KHL season completed. With Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL), Kovalenko has put up 38 points (21 goals) in 128 games the past three (18 - 20 year old) seasons.
Kovalenko was also a part of the 2018-19 U20 World Juniors Bronze medalist team for Russia, scoring three points in six games, while racking up 12 penalty minutes. Kovalenko was on the gold medal 2020-21 Euro Hockey Tour team for Russia; scoring three points in three appearances. His performance for the national team against players his own age show an interesting blend of power, playmaking and shooting ability that will keep him on Joe Sakic’s radar as he develops this season. Kovalenko will be changing uniforms for the first time in his KHL career, signing a contract with Ak Bars Kazan for the upcoming season.
While not a big winger at 5’10” and 185 lbs. Kovalenko has remained healthy despite playing in a professional league at a young age; largely due to his ability to operate in tight spaces and avoid taking big hits when in traffic. He has also shown a bit of an ability to score goals and is remarkably difficult to knock off his skates. Kovalenko is also known for his relentless play style - crashing the net and battling for pucks along the boards fearlessly.
While it’s difficult to tell whether or not Kovalenko would be open to leaving Russia, if his scoring touch and strong skating continue to develop, a full national team call up and a chance to pull on the burgundy and blue in his near future. While he hasn’t taken the KHL by storm, his upcoming 21 year old season should give Colorado a better idea of whether or not this legacy player will be able to follow his father’s footsteps into the NHL.