The NHL world awaits the return of Russian goal scorer Ilya Kovalchuk, who has spent the past five years playing professionally in his home country after a shocking retirement in the midst of a 15-year contract with the New Jersey Devils.
But after turning 35 in mid-April, Kovalchuk officially was off the NHL's voluntary retirement list, meaning that he could come back to the North American league as an unrestricted free agent.
Drafted first overall by the Atlanta Thrashers (later becoming the Winnipeg Jets) in 2001, Kovalchuk quickly became one of the premier scorers in the NHL, recording 40-plus goals three times and 50 or more goals on two occasions.
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After being traded by the Thrashers during the final year of his contract with the belief that he would not be re-signed, Kovalchuk joined the Devils midway through the 2009-10 season, recording 27 points in 27 games. It earned him that massive contract from former Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, though he would only play in three seasons before his surprising retirement in 2013.
Even though Kovalchuk is past his prime, there is little to suggest that he's slowed down in Russia. He's scored 32 goals in each of the last two seasons and has amassed a combined 143 points.
It has plenty of teams kicking the tires on Kovalchuk's status where he will be able to negotiate with teams when the NHL's free agency period opens up on July 1.
One of those teams that could very well be in the discussion recently hired Kovalchuk's former GM Lou Lamoriello: the New York Islanders.
While on Sportsnet 650, hockey insider Elliotte Friedman disclosed that the Lamoriello and the Islanders could very well be in the running for the Russian winger.
"I do think — one of the things I'm kind of hearing — is that I do think that Kovalchuk could be a part of this," Friedman said (h/t Chris Nichols, FRSHockey.com). "Lou Lamoriello has a big history with Ilya Kovalchuk. I wouldn't be surprised if he'll make a pitch to him to come to the Islanders."
Lamoriello has a lengthy to-do list with the Islanders this offseason, the top priority being to re-sign captain and star center John Tavares. However, surrounding the 27-year-old with the best talent available could help the process of securing him for the foreseeable future.
Kovalchuk's better days are behind him, but there's no denying that this is a playmaker who would add scoring depth to the Islanders' attack. That could mean flanking him on the left of Tavares (should he re-sign) on the first line, or ensuring Anders Lee stays a first-liner and putting him on the second unit alongside Calder Trophy finalist Mathew Barzal.