Former NHL superstar Ilya Kovalchuk wants to return to the NHL, and has his eyes set on the New York Rangers.
It seems like every summer there are reports that Ilya Kovalchuk wants to return to the NHL. However, this summer is slightly different, as the New Jersey Devils no longer hold his rights.
Kovalchuk is free to join any NHL franchise this summer, and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that “his eyes are on New York.” While that doesn’t specify which team in New York, Friedman had also reported in May that the 34-year-old Russian was interested in joining the New York Rangers.
While the Rangers are entering a rebuild in which no players are thought to be untouchable, there is still an intriguing core of players that could be attractive for Kovalchuk to play with.
Mika Zibanejad is establishing himself as a top center. Brady Skjei is a great defenseman for his age, and Kovalchuk’s former KHL teammate Pavel Buchnevich has played well while not relegated to the doghouse. Couple that with Ryan McDonagh (if he isn’t traded), and Henrik Lundqvist, who gives the team a chance every night, and this could be a strong team as early as next year.
Kovalchuk had a lot of success during his first run in the NHL. He won the Rocket Richard trophy in 2003-04, and has produced 417 goals and 816 points in 816 games. He joined the Devils during the 2009-2010 season, and remained with them until 2013. He played 222 games with them, producing 89 goals and 201 points.
This season with SKA, he has produced 63 points in 53 games. However, there are concerns with bringing in a player who has spent the last five years away from the NHL and will be 35 at the start of next season.
The Russian winger has a shooting mentality that could help the Rangers, but it’s fair to wonder if he can still produce against NHL athletes on smaller rinks than he has played on in Russia the past five seasons.