Story highlights: Is the incomparable Ilya Kovalchuk ready to return to the NHL after a five-year stint in Russia? There are a few teams linked with the big forward. DCpuckDrop’s Corey Parkinson gives us some background on this intriguing NHL news.
By Corey Parkinson
Almost three years after signing a 15-year $100 million contract with the New Jersey Devils, Ilya Kovalchuk walked away from the deal to return to Russia – where he has been playing for the past five seasons. Each offseason, the chatter picks up on whether or not Kovalchuk is interested in finishing the spectacular career he had already established in the NHL.
Kovalchuk: 816 Games, One Point Per Game
Drafted first overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2001 NHL Draft, Kovalchuk was well on his way to a Hall of Fame career amassing 417 goals, 399 assists, and 816 points in 816 regular season games. His playoff resume is not half bad either with a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2012 against the Los Angeles Kings. In the postseason, Kovalchuk appeared in 32 games with 11 goals and 16 assists.
Kovalchuk has performed on a superior level – not only in the NHL and KHL – but the international level as well; he won a Gold Medal in the 2018 Winter Olympics. This past season at the age of 34, he had 31 Goals in 53 games to go along with 32 assists leading his team SKA Saint Petersburg to the KHL Western Conference Finals.
KHL over NHL
So why the intrigue with Kovalchuk? At his peak in the NHL, Kovalchuk was one of the fastest skaters in the league. Averaging a point a game, his ability to finish plays set him apart from the rest of the NHL. Kovalchuk’s biggest talent was his stick handling ability that few players are able to match.
Kovalchuk’s departure from the Devils was linked to rumors that he would earn more money in Russia due to a lower rate of taxes. However, after the collapse of the Russian Ruble, that reasoning seems to be a little less valid. Every offseason rumors of Kovalchuk’s return were persistent – but this year is the first time he has actually visited some NHL teams, which has piqued some intrigue.
Where Will Kovalchuk Land?
The Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, and the Boston Bruins have all been linked to Kovalchuk. The New York Rangers are also reportedly on his shortlist. He visited with the Kings and Sharks within the last few days. If his return is a legitimate possibility, he has clearly jumped to the front of this year’s free agent class. Any team that signs Kovalchuk immediately becomes a whole lot better overnight.
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Kovalchuk is considered one of the best Russian players on the planet, and if he returns to the NHL he can solidify his legacy as a Hall of Famer. For now, the hockey world must wait to see what happens.