And now, the enigmatic Alex Kovalev!
The first Russian ever drafted in the first round (1991, 15th overall), he started his NHL carer with a bang, winning the Stanley Cup in only his second season, accumulating 21 points in 23 playoff games with the New York Rangers. With Alexander Karpovtsev, Sergei Nemchinov and Sergei Zubov, he was part of the first Russian crop to have their names on the Cup.
He would be sent to the Pittsburgh Penguins where he would amass 95 points in a single season (2000-01) before being sent back to the Rangers in a salary dump in 2003; he would only last parts of two seasons in his second stint in the Big Apple, before the Montréal Canadiens acquired him for Jozef Balej and a second-round pick.
Although he only scored one goal for the Habs in 12 regular-season games, he made up for it by scoring 6 goals and amassing 10 points in 11 playoff games. It was the beginning of a new era for Canadiens fans, as they got to witness the stick handling wonder that can be, at times, Alexei Kovalev.
He has all the talent in the world - the best hands, amazing moves, a precise wrist shot, passing abilities, a mean streak, undeniable leadership qualities, and a knack for giving his best exactly when it's needed, be it an All Star Game presented on home ice (and being named Player Of The Game ahead of the Ovechkins and Malkins), or in the playoffs, or when something important is on the line. It's why, in Montréal, he was known, simply, as L'Artiste - when he's on, it's like witnessing Van Gogh painting, Mozart creating music, ''Captain Sully'' landing a plane in the Hudson river - it's poetry on ice.
With all of his ''upside'', it's a wonder why he never once finished a season with 100 points or 50 goals and why he isn't, consistently, a point-per-game player.
The last few times he represented Russia in international play, he captained them to victory; since they've snubbed him, except at World Championships, they have disappointed. To ignore a guy who thrives in Big Moments doesn't make any sense to me - unless they're trying to ''break'' him, and I think he's too old for that.
During the summer of 2009, because his agent was too slow in answering Bob Gainey's offer, he had to settle for playing with the Ottawa Senators for the next two seasons. He's just an hour away, and he comes back to Montréal every so often, but it feels weird not having him around anymore, yet having retained many of last season's trouble-makers... way to cleanse the room...
I really like this card. It's from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Series 1 set, UD Game Jersey insert (#J-AK), and the patch of jersey bear the exact same colours as the Mike Ribeiro card I showcased a few months back - a big piece of red, a small blue line, taken from the jersey's waistline. Also like the Ribeiro card, he is shown in a picture wearing the team's white jersey when the patch is clearly from the team's red (home) uniform.
Also, I didn't go as deep into Kovy's career as I have with other players, because I recently sent him cards to sign and if/when he sends them back, I'd want to have more stuff to say!