Ilya Kovalchuk returns to NHL, signs 3-year deal with Los Angeles Kings

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Ilya Kovalchuk has spent the last five years in the KHL. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, file)
Ilya Kovalchuk has spent the last five years in the KHL. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, file)

Ilya Kovalchuk is back in the NHL after a five-year stint in Russia’s KHL.

The Los Angeles Kings announced Saturday morning that Kovalchuk had signed a three-year contract with the club. The deal will pay Kovalchuk $6.25 million annually.

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“We are excited to add Ilya to the LA Kings organization. He gives us an added element of skill and scoring along with a desire to win. We will withhold further comment until July 1,” Los Angeles Kings president and general manager Rob Blake said in a team statement.

Kovalchuk, 35, is still playing at a high level. He was the Olympic MVP in 2018 as the unofficial Russian hockey team took the men’s gold medal in the PyongChang Olympics. He had 63 points in 53 games with SKA St. Petersburg. The points total was good enough for first in the league and he had the second-most goals.

Kovalchuk last played in the NHL In the 2012-13 season with the New Jersey Devils. He played three-plus seasons with the Devils after he was traded to the team from the Atlanta Thrashers in the middle of the 2009-10 season.

He burst onto the NHL scene with 29 goals as an 18-year-old rookie in 2001-02. He led the league in goals his third season and has scored more than 30 goals 10 times, including a run of six-straight seasons with 40 or more goals.

Kovalchuk said he wanted to return to the NHL in 2018 because he wanted to win the Stanley Cup before he retired. He reportedly chose the Kings over the Boston Bruins and other teams.

“The NHL is the best league in the world and the Stanley Cup is the toughest thing to win,” he said earlier this spring via “I’ve won the Gagarin Cup twice in the KHL, I know what it takes. But in the NHL there are more regular-season games and all of the best players are playing here, so it’s a big challenge. I was here for a long time and I know what it takes to get to the Final, but I’ve never had a chance to raise the Cup.”

Kovalchuk has played in the Stanley Cup Final once. Coincidentally, that was when his New Jersey Devils team lost to the Kings in six games in 2012.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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