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Caught off-guard by defection of Kovalchuk, DeBoer says the Devils have a lot to prove

While caught off-guard by star forward Ilya Kovalchuk's decision to retire from the NHL and return home to Russia, New Jersey Devils coach Pete DeBoer said his team's job this season is to prove doubters wrong.

Speaking between sessions of a rookie camp, DeBoer said the loss of the 30-year-old Kovalchuk leaves holes on the team's top line and specialty teams, and creates playing time others will have to fill.

DeBoer knew during the season that Kovalchuk was interested in returning to Russia, but he didn't expect a final decision last week. He admitted he was disappointed with Kovalchuk's decision but not angry.

Kovalchuk, who walked away from $77 million on the 15-year contract he signed in 2010, agreed to a four-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL on Monday.