Former National Hockey League forward and unrestricted free agent Ilya Kovalchuk is still hoping to make a long-waited return to the NHL, but the Russian veteran player surely has an odd strategy to go about it. For the past months, it has reported that Kovalchyuk has been talking to NHL teams to make a comeback into the league; at one point, he was reported to have signed a contract with the New York Rangers. While the news was denied shortly after by the Russian forward himself, it seems that now he has made quite a surprising decision in his bid for an NHL return, and this, just a month prior to the free-agency season opening.
TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger reported late on Tuesday night that Kovalchuk has signed with the CAA Hockey agency, parting ways with his former agent Jay Grossman of Puck Agency, as he is heading into free agency. Dreger reports that now his agent JP Barry is in discussions with teams interested in bringing Kovalchuk back to the NHL.
The 35-year-old forward pent the last five years playing in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League and confirmed back in March his intention to return to the NHL. He therefore came off the NHL’s voluntary retired list on April 15, making him an unrestricted free agent as of July 1. The Devils had retained his rights before that point because he left the team in the middle of a long-term contract.
Dreger's colleague Pierre LeBrun added that while Kovalchyuk cannot sign a contract before that date, he could agree to terms with a team at anytime.
Kovalchyuk last played in the NHL for the New Jersey Devils in 2012-13 before retiring from the league to play in the Kontinental Hockey League in his native Russia.
Kovalchuk appeared in 816 career NHL games over 11 seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers and Devils. Kovalchuk was one of the NHL's top scorers before he retired and headed back home following the 2012-13 season. The former Thrashers and Devils star tallied 417 goals and amassed a total of 816 points so far in his NHL career.
In the past year, Kovalchuk was named Most Valuable Players of the Olympics with five goals in six games for the gold-winning Olympic Athletes from Russia and tallied 31 goals and added 32 assists in 51 KHL games for SKA St. Petersburg this season.