In a curious twist of fate, the Colorado Avalanche find themselves relying on former Detroit Red Wings rival Igor Larionov to help them develop one of their intriguing prospects.
Colorado Hockey Now’s Evan Rawal wrote a story this week detailing how Igor Larionov, now coaching Torpedo in the Kontinental Hockey League, is mentoring Nikolai Kovalenko (drafted 171st overall by Colorado in 2018).
Kovalenko, 23, totaled 21 goals and registered 54 points in 56 games for Torpedo last season. The Avalanche hope he joins their team when his KHL contract expires in 2024.
Colorado Hockey Now’s enlisted the help of Chris Sadler to translate a team preview video. Through the translation, we learn how much young Kovalenko likes playing for Larionov.
“Immediately, I made it clear to Colorado that I have a contract, so when it ends, then I can come to you,” Kovalenko said. “I wouldn’t want to fly there right away, because I would like to spend one more full season with Igor Larionov, to gain a little experience, as it were, all this, skill and so on, and then to chime in.”
This what Kovalenko says about Larionov’s style: ““We don’t have any pressure,” Kovalenko said of playing for the hockey legend. “They don’t scold, nothing. They just calmly explain and suggest, teach us to become better.
Kovalenko is the son of former Colorado player Andre Kovalenko.
Larionov was playing for Detroit when the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry was in its heyday. Andrei Kovalenko was on the Avalanche in the 1995-96 season, but was traded during the regular season. The elder Kovalenko played briefly with Larionov for CSKA Moscow in the late 1980s.
Larionov is nicknamed “The Professor” because of his cerebral approach to playing hockey. He takes a similar studious approach to coaching and it is paying off for him. His Torpedo Nizhny Novrogod team finished fourth in the KHL. That represents their highest finish ever in the KHL.
The Avalanche saw significant improvement in Kovalenko last season under Larionov.
According to the video, Colorado executive Joe Sakic asked Larionov his opinion of Kovalenko’s potential
“I told him, Sakic, what I see in your team, players, wingers, I think he should be top six, in my opinion. 100%, but he needs to play another year (in the KHL),” Larionov said. “So I told Joe, and there was such an agreement that he fulfills this year of the contract, plays with us, grows even further, improves, gets better, and you get him the next year, at the end of the season.”