ARLINGTON, Va. -- Brian MacLellan did not make any further additions to the Capitals' roster on Monday before the 3 p.m. trade deadline, leaving the Ilya Kovalchuk trade as the last piece for what he hopes will be another championship roster.
"I think he's a good fit for what we need," MacLellan said. "He's an established player. So many good reports and viewings of what he did in Montreal. I think he's a fit for our team. We think he can add a lot offensively, playmaking. So many good things have been said about him on and off the ice in Montreal that we basically thought it was a no-brainer to add him."
Here are the four most important things MacLellan had to say about Kovalchuk.
Kovalchuk will start on the third line
This should perhaps come as no surprise with Washington ranking third in the NHL in offense, but Kovalchuk will not step into a top-six role for the Caps. Instead, he will play on the third line.
While MacLellan was careful to say lineup decisions would be left to Todd Reirden, he was very specific with where he felt Kovalchuk fit.
"I probably start him third line, right wing," MacLellan said. "Start him there, see how it goes, and we can move him around."
Don't take the addition of Kovalchuk as an indictment of the third line
MacLellan knew he was not going to get as much offensive production from the third line without Andre Burakovsky and Brett Connolly this season and was quick to defend the performance of the Carl Hagelin, Lars Eller, Richard Panik line.
"I think the third line's been good recently," MacLellan said. "I think the intention of it, the way we put it together, was that it wasn't gonna be as offensive (as) last year but you could trust it more against top-six players from other teams. They've had reasonable offensive output and played a pretty solid two-way game for most of the year."
Yet, MacLellan pegged Kovalchuk for the third line.
When asked if this meant he was changing his philosophy for that line he said, "It could be. I mean we don't have to go with it. I think the Kovalchuk thing gives us just options to -- if we need offense, we can use him in that situation, and if we don't we can leave the line the way it is."
Look, you don't trade a third-round draft pick for nothing. There's a reason MacLellan sought out Kovalchuk and it is for his offense. What this points to most likely is that Kovalchuk will play on the third line, but that the Hagelin, Eller, Panik trio will be used in defensive situations when needed.
Kovalchuk is willing to accept a smaller role
Kovalchuk was playing nearly 19 minutes per game in Montreal. That's significantly more than he should expect in a third-line role with Washington, but, per MacLellan, Kovalchuk understands this.
"I think he views our team as having a chance to win a championship and that's his main priority," MacLellan said. "I think he likes the style of play that we have. I've talked to him a couple times about accepting a role and he's pretty clear in his mind that he'll do anything as long as he has a chance to win a championship."
MacLellan added, "Having conversations with Ilya about will he be willing to accept a certain type of role -- I know in Montreal he was playing probably a little bit more than he's going to play here -- and would he be able to accept that role and be OK with it? He's pretty clear in his mind that he'll do whatever's asked of him."
Kovalchuk will be used on the power play
Washington's power play has struggled significantly this season. At times, the team has tried to use the second unit more than in the past, but when the player Evgeny Kuznetsov is setting up for one-timers is Brendan Leipsic, well, that's not a unit you can really expect much offensive production from. Kovalchuk should provide a more dangerous option for that second power play unit.
"He's a power-play player," MacLellan said. "Probably a second-power play player for us unless something's going on and we want to change it up. We can start him in our bottom six, we can move him up for shifts depending on the coaches. I just think it gives our coaching staff a lot of flexibility to use the player."
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