We hear the term “make-up” bandied about by scouts, GMs, coaches, et al. frequently as we approach the draft each summer in hockey and any other sport. Over at NHL.com, the crew has a story featuring Dan Marr, Director of Central Scouting and former chief scout with the Atlanta Thrashers.
Marr’s story of Kovalchuk in the weeks leading up to the draft speak to a kid who carried himself with a fair amount of confidence. Another reading could be, as the kids these days are saying, Kovalchuk was swaggy.
“It’s the only time in our history that we flew a player in to Atlanta to meet with him before the Draft,” Marr said. “Normally, we did it at the Combine. Our Russian translator [Evgeny Bogdanovich] was there and one of our scouts asked the question, ‘What do you do when you go through a scoring slump and how do you get yourself out of it?’
“Evgeny asked the question and Kovy responded. There was a lot of laughter and then the translator said, ‘He said he’s never had a slump.’
Kovalchuk would later ask the group, ‘Who’s driving the white Corvette in the front of the building, because I’d like to take it for a ride.’
Honestly, who else would have the courage to make such an inquiry? The sports car was Waddell’s and the GM actually did allow Kovalchuk to drive him to dinner that night, although it’s unknown whether or not the big Russian understood any of the traffic signs.
“People were looking for negatives on Ilya that just weren’t there,” Marr said. “It’s unfair to expect an 18-year-old to join an NHL team and carry that team on his shoulders — even if you’re the first overall pick and possess that ability. Unfortunately, that goes with the territory, but Ilya handled himself well within the team environment.
To recap: here we have an 18 year old kid who is interviewing for a job. When asked what he does to break out of a slump, he replies “I don’t slump.” He then proceeds to ask if he can take his future boss’ sports car for a spin and is granted that request even though he had never driven around a North American traffic sign once in his life.
Perhaps the most telling moment, according to Marr, came on draft day.
“When we were in Florida for the Draft, I remember Kovalchuk was coming over to meet our management team. I went down to the lobby to meet him, got on the elevator but he didn’t let his agent on. The elevator door closed and while we rode up together, he just wanted to make sure that we knew he didn’t want Atlanta to trade the pick. He wanted to come to Atlanta and play.”
Not to understate how ballsy the “I don’t slump/let me drive your car” episode is, but for an 18 year old to have his agent on the other side of a closed escalator while he told the brass of said prospective employer that he WANTS to be their guy is equally impressive. We are obviously familiar with the ole “I’m just hoping to be picked by someone” — this is in a whole other league of its own.
When you think of how much praise was heaped on Claude Giroux for demanding the first shift of a game in an elimination game, this was a bit more than that. This was a kid who was barely past puberty, who barely spoke English requesting that this team hold on to their first overall pick so that he can be their franchise player going forward. That’s how you throw a gauntlet down.
Obviously Kovalchuk has had a spectacular career to this point with some very high moments. It’s nice to see that it wasn’t without the expectation.