It appears increasingly likely that after five seasons in the KHL, forward Ilya Kovalchuk is heading back to North America for a return to the NHL. Where the 35-year-old Kovalchuk lands remains to be seen, but on Friday, he reportedly began in-person meetings with some potential suitors.
According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, Kovalchuk was in California to meet with the Los Angeles Kings, about three weeks before the NHL’s free agency period opens July 1 and Kovalchuk will be free to sign with any team, also with his rights no longer belonging to the New Jersey Devils.
Dreger also reported that Kovalchuk would meet with the San Jose Sharks on Sunday.
Each team would present a different situation for Kovalchuk. The Kings have lacked scoring, and were swept by the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a series Los Angeles scored three goals and was twice shut out. The Kings also shipped Marian Gaboirk to the Ottawa Senators prior to the 2018 trade deadline, giving them an immediate opening on the wing in their top-six.
The Sharks recently signed trade deadline acquisition Evander Kane to a seven-year, $49 million extension. It remains to be seen if the Sharks will return center Joe Thornton, who missed the last 35 games of the regular season and all 10 Sharks playoffs games due to a torn ACL. It was the second straight year Thornton dealt with a major knee injury, and at 38 years old (and turning 39 July 2), does not currently have a contract. He played this past season under a one-year, $8 million deal.
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There were previous reports Kovalchuk would sign with the New York Rangers, but there has been nothing official on any front as of yet. Across town, the New York Islanders also present an interesting fit, with new general manager Lou Lamoriello, who held the same post in New Jersey and originally signed Kovalchuk to an 15-year contract in 2010.
Kovalchuk scored 31 goals and recorded 63 points in 53 KHL games this past season, his second straight year getting at least 30 goals. He also won a gold medal with Russia at the 2018 Olympics.