News and notes from today’s John Stevens media scrum:
-There’s a pretty firm and friendly professional relationship between John Stevens and San Jose coach Peter DeBoer. Though it’s largely a byproduct of having been a part of the coaching fraternity on both coasts for over a decade, they also grew up on Lake Erie in close proximity to each other. Stevens hails from Turkey Point, Ont., and DeBoer from an hour east in Dunnville.
There’s also a connection through their kids, who’ve played at high levels. DeBoer’s son, Jack, is about to begin his NCAA career at Boston University, but before committing to the Terriers had split time at the Salisbury School in Connecticut and the U.S. National Team Development Program. Nolan Stevens played for the USNTDP, while his older brother, John, played for Salisbury.
“We talked before his boys went to Salisbury just about the experience we had there,” the elder John Stevens said. “His one boy also went to the [USNTDP] program, so his boys kind of followed a similar process as some of my kids, so we talked over the years. Just being in the business, coaching against each other, I got to know him fairly well, so a lot of respect for what he’s done really everywhere he’s been, and he continues to do a really good job.”
Some of those conversations over the summer surrounded Ilya Kovalchuk, who played under DeBoer for the New Jersey team that lost to Los Angeles in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. Over this past summer, Stevens and DeBoer spoke about a number of Kovalchuk’s topics, from his presence in the room to his natural gift in shootouts.
“It doesn’t matter if I’ve talked to a coach or a player – the response has been the same,” Stevens said. “They speak really highly of him, how good of a teammate he was, doesn’t mind being held responsible, hardworking. I’ve heard that from Pete DeBoer. My son in St. Louis (Nolan) played with Chris Thorburn in training camp, and he raved about the team he had with him in Atlanta. You can see that firsthand. He’s a really quality individual that’s a serious pro about being prepared and ready to work and ready to play. He’s lived up to those expectations based on those conversations.”
-Stevens expanded on Kovalchuk when asked whether there was an aspect of the forward’s game that had surprised him during training camp. “To be honest with you, we knew training camp was going to be a process that he had to go through to get acclimated to the game over here again,” Stevens said. “Smaller rink, tighter checking, and training camp can be a grind. He did some things and showed some flashes that kind of gets you excited. I think the big thing for us was just trying to figure out who he’s best suited to play with. We tried him with Kopi, we tried him with Jeff. We settled back in with Kopi, but I think for us, probably the most important week for him of the preseason has been this last week of practice. Just the way training camp was, we had split-squad games and some heavy scheduling down the stretch there that I thought this week was probably his best week of training camp. He looks like he’s moving well. He looks like he’s really starting to crisp up his execution and we’re exciting to get going with him.”
Kovalchuk will play tonight as a right wing opposite Alex Iafallo on Anze Kopitar’s line. Earlier in camp, he had skated as a left wing opposite Adrian Kempe on Jeff Carter’s line. Though Dustin Brown’s injury served to recalibrate the lines, Stevens wasn’t settled on anything throughout training camp, where he had previously spoken about trying several different looks out to try and find something that might not have otherwise stuck out.
“The thing with Brownie, and both Brownie and Kovy, is that both guys have played lots of left side,” Stevens said. “We talked. Brownie was even willing to go back to the left side if that’s what we wanted to do, but obviously with Brownie’s injury, it forces you to take a look at things. We knew that Carts, Tanner and Ty have played well together in some pretty key situations before. It gives us a little more depth and balance if we can spread it out like that. Not that Tyler couldn’t play with Kopi – he’s done a good job there before – but we just felt it was best to spend some time with the line this week, leave them together and get some continuity and repetition so they get to feel a little bit of chemistry off each other.”
-There’s no definite timetable on Brown’s return, but the forward who underwent surgery on a broken finger isn’t expected to be out long-term. “I would say it would be weeks and not months,” Stevens said.
-Asked to compare to the start of his second season to his first season as head coach, Stevens said that last year was different because the team had added a coaching staff that was almost entirely new.
“I’ve been here for a long time. I have a really strong relationship with the players,” Stevens said. “I think the big change this year is bringing in Kovy as anew player. But I think the way I approach the game this year from a coaching aspect is you’re always looking for ways to make your team better. I feel confident in the way we play. We still want to improve in certain areas and continue to be good defensively, but try and give the players the freedom to create more offense from a responsible standpoint. We feel very comfortable with that game plan, I feel very comfortable with the way the staff has been able to allocate the work flow and were able to establish a relationship with their players, so we’re probably a step ahead of last year where we were in terms of all that.”
The responsibilities among the staff are eventually the same. Dave Lowry oversees the defensive side of the game and the penalty kill, while Don Nachbaur works with the offense and the power play. There’s overlap, as there is in many staffs. Other than Bill Ranford returning to track scoring chances – that was handled by Pierre Turgeon last season – the workflow hasn’t changed much, year-over-year.
-Lots more to come today, Insiders. I’m joining NHL Network’s NHL Now at 1:10 p.m. PT. If you have a question for us, tweet at me and @NHLNetwork and include the #NHLNow hashtag! Let’s talk soon.
-Lead photo via Adam Pantozzi/NHLI