Ilya Kovalchuk has had an eventful career. He’s been a big part of the success of many teams in the NHL, RSL and later KHL. Kovalchuk’s NHL career started when he was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2001. Kovalchuk was a force to be reckoned with during the early years of his career. In the 2003-2004 season, he was part of a three-way tie for the most goals of the season. He also tied for second league-wide for overall points.
By 2018-19, things had changed. Ilya Kovalchuk was playing for the LA Kings. Although he had a strong start to the season, after a coaching change Kovalchuk saw very little playing time. By mid-December 2019, the Kings had terminated Kovalchuk’s contract. After that, speculation started about where Kovalchuk would end up. Kovalchuk had gone back home to play in Russia several times, most notably during NHL lockouts in 2004 and 2012-13. However, it seemed evident that Kovalchuk wanted to stay in the NHL.
Ilya Kovalchuk has had a wonderful career by anyone’s estimation. In January 2020 he stated he’d be willing to accept a league-minimum deal to make it back into the NHL. He could be a great bargain, maybe. The big issue is that by the time they reach their mid-30s, many hockey players start to lose a step or more. Which teams would be willing to take a flyer on a player this age who’d washed out of LA, even a player with Kovalchuk’s stats?
Speculation for interest in Ilya Kovalchuk centered on three teams: the Boston Bruins, Nashville Predators and New York Islanders. The Bruins have one great offensive line but limited depth. The Preds similarly need more offensive production from someone with a scoring touch. And, finally, the Islanders have a great defense but a terrible power play. Kovalchuk could make a big impact there.
Somewhat surprisingly, on January 3, 2020, Ilya Kovalchuk signed with the Montreal Canadiens. Kovalchuk agreed to a league-minimum, two-way contract. So far, he’s been a great bargain for the Canadiens. Kovalchuk has already scored 4 goals, with 4 assists in 8 games. As a point-per-game player, he’s providing a lot of help for a team that is struggling to secure a playoff berth.