Los Angeles (AFP) – Russian left wing Ilya Kovalchuk, who led his countrymen to Pyeongchang Winter Olympic gold in February, agreed to terms Saturday on a three-year NHL contract with the Los Angeles Kings.
The 35-year-old left wing, who scored five goals for the Olympic Athletes from Russia to earn the tournament Most Valuable Player award, returns to the NHL after retiring from the league in 2013 following his 12th NHL season.
Kings president Luc Robitaille said the team is excited to have Kovalchuk, who cannot sign a contract until he becomes an official free agent on July 1.
“He still takes the puck hard to the net and that’s the one thing we’re not doing as good as we want to,” Robitaille said in a posting on the NHL website.
“We watched him a lot last year and he’s still an explosive player. He jumps into holes. That’s the way the game is played.”
Kovalchuk last played in the NHL for the New Jersey Devils in the 2012-13 season, scoring 11 goals and assisting on 20 others in 37 games.
He departed for SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League, where he spent five seasons and led the league with 31 goals and 32 assists last season.
Kovalchuk helped SKA St. Petersburg win the Gagarin Cup in 2015 abd 2017.
“We needed a shooter,” Robitaille said. “We know he’s a goal scorer and we’re not hiding it from anyone. We haven’t scored goals in the last few years.”
The Kings ranked 16th in the NHL this past season with 2.89 goals a game and rank 22nd overall with 2.67 goals a game over the past four seasons since winning the 2014 Stanley Cup.
Kovalchuk was selected with the top pick in the 2002 NHL Draft by the Atlanta Thrashers, who have since relocated to Winnipeg. Kovalchuk scored 417 goals in 816 NHL games and shared the NHL goals title in 2003-04 with Rick Nash and Jarome Iginla on 41.
Kovalchuk’s top goals campaigns were 2005-06 and 2007-08 when he netted 52.
The closest he came to a Stanley Cup was in 2012 when the Devils lost the final to the Kings.
“We are excited to add Ilya to the LA Kings organization,” Kings general manager Rob Blake said. “He gives us an added element of skill and scoring along with a desire to win.”