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Hockey

Kings’ Ilya Kovalchuk expected to return Saturday against Sharks

Anaheim Ducks v Los Angeles Kings
Ilya Kovalchuk (17) of the Kings shoots and scores a goal in front of Jacob Larsson (32) of the Ducks at Staples Center on Nov.6.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

The only Kovalchuk to have appeared at a Kings game in the last few weeks was 8 years old.

Artem Kovalchuk, the youngest son of L.A. winger Ilya Kovalchuk, recently took part in an intermission youth hockey scrimmage at Staples Center, and his name was mentioned over the public address system.

The Kings are expected to get the older version back Saturday, and this one wouldn’t mind borrowing some of that youthful spryness for his legs and having his name announced, preferably after a goal.

Kovalchuk will play his first game since Nov. 29, when he said his ankle “flared up’ and he later underwent a bursectomy for an inflamed bursa. After three full practices, Kovalchuk said Friday he felt well but was cautious when asked if there is an adjustment to get his timing back.

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“I don’t know,” Kovalchuk said. “We’ll see [Saturday]. In practice, you’re feeling good, but the game’s obviously a little different pace and everything.”

Kovalchuk skated on the third line with Nate Thompson and Brendan Leipsic in practice. His return renews the controversy over his reduced role under interim coach Willie Desjardins, although that was tamped down some in Kovalchuk’s last game when he played more than 14 minutes.

Desjardins played Kovalchuk fewer than 10 minutes in each of two previous games and moved him to the second power-play unit. Desjardins said Friday that he intends to keep Kovalchuk on the second unit.

“Will that change after Christmas?” Desjardins said. “We’ll wait and see, but he’s a guy that, we’ve got to get him in a spot where he can contribute on the power play.”

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The Kings are 2-for-23 with the extra man over the last 10 games. Kovalchuk’s next power-play score will be his second this season. At this point, the Kings will mine for any potential offense they can get.

“He’s hungry to get back in,” Desjardins said. “We need him to produce. We need some offense to our game. He’s a guy that will get back in. I know he’s exciting about playing.”

Kovalchuk’s countryman Nikita Scherbak appeared to be an extra in practice and, if that stands, Scherbak would be scratched for the first time since the Kings acquired him through waivers.

Kyle Clifford also did not skate on a line and might not be ready to return from concussion symptoms. Austin Wagner, Michael Amadio and Matt Luff were recalled. Jack Campbell is on a conditioning assignment with Ontario.

Walker acclimating

Rookie defenseman Sean Walker was thrown into the fire in a Dec.11 game when Drew Doughty and Dion Phaneuf got injured. But it ended up being instructive.

“I was playing every other shift,” Walker said. “I think that really helped me for feeling comfortable out there and getting some confidence going into the next couple of games.”

Walker has since played second-pairing minutes, lately with Jake Muzzin, and has only been on the ice for one goal against in four games since his recall. Desjardins said he likes the energy and offensive instincts that Walker brings.

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“He moves well, he moves the puck well,” Desjardins said. “I like how he joins the rush.”

UP NEXT

AT SAN JOSE

When: Saturday, 1 p.m.

On the air: TV: NBCSN; Radio: iHeartRadio (LA Kings Audio Network)

Update: Joe Pavelski’s 22 goals have already matched his total from last season. Joe Thornton on Thursday tied Marcel Dionne for 10th on the all-time assists list with 1,040. Goalie Martin Jones is 10-3-2 against his former team.

curtis.zupke@latimes.com

Twitter: @curtiszupke

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