Ilya Kovalchuk, long discussed as wanting to return to the NHL after four years playing in Russia, has opted to stay in the KHL for one more year. Due to his previous retirement, Kovalchuk first had to sign with the New Jersey Devils and then be traded if he wanted to return this year. Next year he can be an unrestricted free agent.
Kovalchuk will return to KHL for one more season, Post has learned. Will become free agent next 7/1. Am told NJ made effort to make deal.
— Larry Brooks (@NYP_Brooksie) July 4, 2017
Ilya Kovalchuk to Remain in the KHL
Kovalchuk entered the NHL in 2001-02 after being drafted first overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2001 Entry Draft. He immediately made an impact in the league, scoring 29 goals and 51 points in 65 games played. This was enough to finish second in Calder Trophy voting behind Dany Heatley, who is three years older than Kovalchuk.
Kovalchuk played in Atlanta for 7.5 seasons before being traded to the New Jersey devils in 2009-10. He would go on to play three full seasons with the Devils before retiring to sign with SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League. He cited a desire to spend more time with his family as his reason for returning to Russia. In choosing to do so, Kovalchuk walked away from 12 years remaining of his 15 year contract with New Jersey, worth another $77 million.
After winning consistently in Russia, Kovalchuk, now 34, returns to the NHL in seek of a Stanley Cup. The world-class sniper left the NHL as an exact point-per-game player. He amassed 417 goals and 399 assists in 816 career NHL regular-season games. He added another 11 goals and 27 points in 32 career playoff games. In 245 games with SKA St. Petersburg, including those played during the 2012-13 lockout, Kovalchuk has 104 goals and 264 points.
Throughout his time in the NHL, Kovalchuk scored 50 plus goals twice, and dipped below thirty only in his rookie season and the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. If Kovalchuk can muster just a fraction of that scoring, he may give his new team the offensive boost they need to contend for a Stanley Cup.