Ilya Kovalchuk wants to return to the NHL.
The former NHL forward has aims on returning and playing for “several more years,” said Russian state sports channel Match TV.
Kovalchuk wants to win a Stanley Cup and will examine offers from NHL clubs over the summer.
As for right now, the 34-year-old is fixed on winning with St. Petersburg SKA in the Kontinental Hockey League. He has 65 points in 55 games this season. He was also part of Russia’s Olympic squad, which scooped a gold medal last month.
Kovalchuk holds the distinction of being the first Russian to be drafted first overall in the NHL. He was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2001 and put together a 51-point rookie season despite missing 17 games due to injury.
During the 2004-2005 NHL lockout, Kovalchuk returned to Russia as a success in the NHL. He’d already won scoring trophies and was primed as one of the league’s best pure scorers, joining the likes of Jarome Iginla and Joe Sakic.
When the NHL returned to action, Kovalchuk picked up where he left off and tied a rookie named Alex Ovechkin in the 2005-2006 scoring race.
In February of 2010, Kovalchuk was traded to the New Jersey Devils. In July of 2010, he signed the notorious 17-year contract. The deal was nullified by the league, but the precedent was set and Kovalchuk eventually landed a 15-year deal worth $100 million.
By the time the 2012-2013 lockout arrived, Kovalchuk was off to Russia again. This time he signed a temporary deal with St. Petersburg SKA. When NHL hockey resumed, he didn’t return to North America immediately. He, along with Pavel Datsyuk, skated in the KHL’s All-Star Game.
By July of 2013, it was over for Kovalchuk in the NHL. He quit with a dozen years on the table and signed a four-year deal with St. Petersburg SKA. He has since won two Gagarin Cups with the club.
A return to the NHL has been discussed off and on for a few years, but it does seem like there may be some substance to this round. Kovalchuk’s desire to win a Cup and to join Datsyuk as one of Russia’s greatest hockey exports carries a lot of weight.
The question now is whether an NHL team would be willing to roll the dice. Kovalchuk can still play, as his scoring numbers bear that out. But returning Russians aren’t always greeted with open arms in North America.
Just ask Alexander Radulov.