Ilya Kovalchuk returns to KHL with 2-year contract

Ilya Kovalchuk KHL

Ilya Kovalchuk is officially headed back to the KHL.

The veteran forward officially signed a two-year deal with Avangard Omsk on Saturday, returning to the Russian league for the first time since the 2017-18 season.

He spent five years in the KHL starting with the 2013-14 season and was one of the best players in the league during that time. He followed that stretch by returning to the NHL for the 2018-19 season, signing a three-year, $18.75 deal with the Los Angeles Kings. It was a marriage that just never ended up working out. It was clear very early on that Kovalchuk was not going to be a game-breaker, and his skillset was the worst possible fit for the way the Kings played and the direction they were headed in.

[Related: ProHockeyTalk’s 2020 NHL Free Agency Tracker]

Kovalchuk spent this past season split between the Kings, Montreal Canadiens, and Washington Capitals.

He signed with the Canadiens after the Kings terminated his contract in mid-December, and was then traded to the Capitals just before the deadline. He finished the season with 10 goals and 26 total points in 46 regular season games, then recorded just a single assist in eight playoff games with the Capitals.

An elite NHL goal scorer

With this signing it seems to be a strong bet that Kovalchuk’s NHL career is now over. He will be 39 years old when this current contract in Russia ends, and based on the past two seasons he is no longer an elite player in North America. That is not going to change over the next two years.

At his peak, Kovalchuk was one of the most dominant goal scorers in the NHL. He scored at least 40 goals six different times in his career, and twice topped the 50-goal mark. Since the start of the 2000-01 season the only two players in the league that averaged more goals per game than Kovalchuk’s .478 have been Alex Ovechkin (.612) and Steven Stamkos (.525).

He scored 443 goals in 926 NHL games during that stretch. Had he not left the NHL following the 2012-13 season and spent five years in the KHL he would have almost certainly topped the 600-goal mark for his career.

Kovalchuk spent the first six-and-a-half years of his career with the Atlanta Thrashers before being traded to the New Jersey Devils during the 2009-10 season. He ended up signing a massive 15-year contract with the Devils (after an even larger 17-year contract was rejected by the league) and helped lead the team to the 2011-12 Stanley Cup Final. That contract was terminated in July 2013 when Kovalchuk left for the KHL.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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