Ilya Kovalchuk's return to NHL overshadowed by John Tavares' Maple Leafs move


Most of the talk in the NHL offseason has centred around free agent John Tavares' decision to leave the New York Islanders and sign a long-term deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, there was also another significant signing as Russian star Ilya Kovalchuk headed back to the NHL after playing in his homeland in the KHL for the past five years. The star left-winger, who's now 35 years old and was drafted first overall by the Atlanta Thrashers, was inked to a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Kings for $18.75 million.

Kovalchuk started his career in Russia then skated for eight seasons with Atlanta before signing as a free agent with the New Jersey Devils where he spent another four NHL campaigns. Kovalchuk agreed to a 17-year, $102 million contract with the Islanders, but departed for SKA St. Petersburg in 2013 after posting 417 goals and 399 assists for 816 points in 816 regular-season NHL contests. He also added 11 goals and 16 assists in 32 playoff games. While playing in the KHL, he scored 138 goals and 189 assists for 327 points in 298 games with 43 points in 63 playoff outings and helped his team win a pair of championships.

Kovalchuk remained visible to NHL fans over the past five years as he continued to play internationally in the World Championships and Olympic Games, being named MVP of the 2018 Games and winning a gold medal. He was still considered a highly-skilled forward who could produce at a point-per game pace and led the KHL scoring parade last season. He also publicly stated that he was interested in returning to the NHL before he retired. There was a lot of interest in Kovalchuk's services, but he decided the Kings suited him best.

Kovalchuk recently told the media he believes he has another three or four top-level seasons left in him and wanted to join a team that is ready to challenge for the Stanley Cup now rather than a few years down the road. He said the Kings fit the bill perfectly as the club has one of the best goaltenders and defence in the NHL as well as a top centre to play with in Anze Kopitar. Of course, he'll also be suiting up with top goaltender Jonathan Quick and defenceman Drew Doughty. Kopitar enjoyed a career year of 92 points this season while Doughty broke the 60-point barrier. In addition, veteran forward Dustin Brown scored 61 points and Jeff Carter notched 22 points in 27 games.

According to Kovalchuk, the veterans on the Kings' roster all have their names on the Stanley Cup and will help him remain productive on the ice. Los Angeles head coach John Stevens is obviously glad to be adding Kovalchuk's offence to his lineup and believes he'll also make a difference on their power play due to his lethal shot and passing skills. Kovalchuk shared the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2003/04 as the NHL's top goal scorer with 41 goals, but he actually bettered that total on four occasions with seasons of 52, 42, 52 and 43 goals from 2005 to 2009. He also posted 98 points in 78 games in 2005/06 and 91 points in 79 outings in 2008/09. It'll definitely be interesting to see how his production compares to that of Tavares over the next three seasons.