2020 UFA Player Profile: Ilya Kovalchuk

Dom Lunardo | March 28th, 2020 

Every once in a while, the hockey world is blessed with a player who possesses an incredible skill set, flare for the dramatic, and sheer, raw talent. That player, and the focus of this article, is none other than the native from Tver, Russia, Ilya Kovalchuk.

Prior to the National Hockey League halting play a fortnight ago, Kovalchuk was in the middle of his 14th NHL season which does not include his 5 years in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with SKA St. Petersburg. At the NHL level, Kovalchuk has spent time with the Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets), New  Jersey Devils, Los Angeles Kings, and has been traded twice this season to both the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals, where he currently plies his trade. At season’s end (whenever that maybe, given the current work stoppage due to the COVID-19 pandemic), Kovalchuk, like many other players across the league will once again be looking for a new contract. Let’s take a closer look at the storied career of Ilya Kovalchuk, and what teams may be willing to pay for his services when he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) this summer.

From Russia with Love

After starting his National Hockey League career during the 2001-02 campaign with the Atlanta Thrashers, Kovalchuk or “Kovy” as he’s commonly referred to, quickly burst onto the scene. His rookie season saw him tally 29 goals and 51 points, and before long, Kovalchuk quickly established himself as one of the most dynamic, exciting, and electrifying talents in the league. Prior to the 2011-12 season when the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Kovalchuk posted 5 seasons with 40+ goals in a Thrashers uniform, further cementing himself as one of the best players in the NHL. But with the impending move to Winnipeg, Kovalchuk had his sights set on a new challenge (and home) and opt for a change of scenery by heading to the New Jersey Devils. In Jersey, Kovalchuk spent the better part of 4 seasons, making one trip to the Stanley Cup Finals during the 2011-12 campaign. It was a magical year, but the Devils would eventually fall short at the hands of the L.A. Kings in a 5-game series, 4-1. 

An Unlikely “Journeyman”

After a brief stint in Los Angeles with the Kings, Kovalchuk found himself in “La Belle Province” this past December on a one year/$700,000 deal with the Montreal Canadiens. It didn’t take long for Kovalchuk to revere himself to the Habs faithful posting 6 goals and 7 assists for 13 points in 22 games, including overtime winners against their arch-rival Maple Leafs and Senators. However, with a keen eye on the future of the franchise, Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin “flipped” Kovalchuk at this season’s trade deadline to the Washington Capitals for a third-round draft pick. 

Kovalchuk turns 37 next month but the Russian sensation has proven that he still has the ability to “turn back the clock” when placed in the right situation. The Washington capitals realized this and traded for his services as they hope to embark on a long and successful postseason run.

As for next year, various clubs will continue to closely monitor his play down the stretch when the NHL resumes play, with hopes of “courting” him on July 1. A one or even 2 year deal at a cap hit of $1-1.8M is definitely in the cards for Kovalchuk as he enters the summer months. A low-risk, high reward contract structured as such can be music to the ears of interested GMs and management groups from around the league. We’ll have to wait and see what the next few months have in store for Kovalchuk, his fellow compatriot and now teammate, Alex Ovechkin, and the rest of the National Hockey League landscape. 

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