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Ilya Valeryevich Kovalchuk (Russian: Илья Валерьевич Ковальчук; born April 15, 1983) is a Russian professional hockey player who is currently playing for the Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey League (NHL). He developed in the youth system of Spartak Moscow, joining their senior team in the Vysshaya Liga in 1999. After two seasons with Spartak he joined the Atlanta Thrashers of the NHL, who selected him first overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.
After eight seasons with the Thrashers, he was traded to the New Jersey Devils in February 2010, and later signed a 15-year, $100 million contract during the off-season after a 17-year, $102 million was rejected by the league as being an attempt to circumvent salary cap restrictions. Three years later, he retired from the NHL having played 11 seasons, in order to return to Russia, joining SKA. Kovalchuk is fifth all-time in the NHL for overtime goals scored (14), and 18th all time in goals per game average (.511). He is the seventh highest scoring Russian in NHL history. While in the NHL, Kovalchuk was twice named to the end of season All-Star Team, and in 2004 finished in a three-way tie for the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy as the league's leading goal-scorer, sharing it with Jarome Iginla and Rick Nash.
Internationally, Kovalchuk has played for Russia in the IIHF World U18 Championship, World Junior Championship, World Championship, World Cup and Winter Olympics, highlighted by back-to-back gold medals in the 2008 and 2009 World Championship. He and his teammates took home the gold medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea representing Olympic Athletes from Russia, where he was named MVP for the tournament. The Los Angeles Kings agreed to terms with him on June 23, 2018.Contents
Kovalchuk was born in Kalinin (now Tver), a city roughly 180 kilometres northwest of Moscow, the second child and first son of Valeri and Lyubov. Born big, he was named in honour of Ilya Muromets, a legendary figure from Kievan Rus'. Valeri played basketball in Tver; after his career ended he turned to coaching, and was the head of the sport's school at the Spartak Olympic reserve in the city from 1980 until 1998, while Lyubov was the head of the #2 polyclinic of the #7 Tver city hospital. Valeri would later write a book detailing Kovalchuk's development as a hockey player, titled "From Tver to Atlanta" (Russian: «От Твери до Атланты») and published in 2004, and died in 2005 due to heart disease. His older sister, Arina, is seven years older than Kovalchuk. At the age of seven he was invited to join the Spartak Moscow youth school, which he went to every weekend, taking the train with his father.Marriage and children
Kovalchuk met his future wife, Nicole Andrazajtis, in 2002 after being introduced by mutual friends. Nicole was a well known singer in Russia at the time and was part of the group Mirage. They married in 2008 at Church of Dormition in Russia. Together they have four children, daughters Karolina and Eva, born in 2006 and 2015, and sons Philipp and Artem, born in 2009 and 2010, respectively.Playing career Early career
Kovalchuk played for Vysshaya Liga club Spartak Moscow for two seasons before entering the NHL. Drafted by the Thrashers first overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, he became the first Russian to be drafted first overall in the NHL's history. In club-level competition, Kovalchuk wore the number 17 as a tribute to Valeri Kharlamov, a Soviet superstar in the 1970s.Atlanta Thrashers
Entering his NHL rookie season in 2001–02, Kovalchuk scored 29 goals and 51 points despite missing 17 games with a season-ending shoulder injury. He finished second in voting to teammate Dany Heatley for the Calder Memorial Trophy as league rookie of the year. Both were named to the NHL All-Rookie Team. After improving to 38 goals and 67 points in his second season, Kovalchuk scored 41 goals in 2003–04, making him a co-winner of the Maurice 'Rocket' Richard Trophy after tying for the league lead in goals with Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames and Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets. He also added 46 assists for 87 points, tying him with Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche for second in the league that season, behind Martin St. Louis. Kovalchuk also participated in his first NHL All-Star Game in 2004.Kovalchuk with the Atlanta Thrashers during the 2005–06 season.
Due to the 2004–05 NHL lockout, Kovalchuk returned to Russia, playing for both Ak Bars Kazan and Khimik Moscow Oblast of the Russian Superleague. After the lockout Kovalchuk and the Thrashers could not initially agree to a new contract, so he stayed in Russia, signing with Khimik Moscow Oblast. He played 11 games for the team, recording 8 goals and 13 points, before returning to the Thrashers and NHL with a new five-year contract worth $32 million. During the 2005–06 season he scored 52 goals, tying him with rookie Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals for third in the league in scoring (behind Jonathan Cheechoo of the San Jose Sharks , and Jaromír Jágr of the New York Rangers ). He also tied his career-high of 46 assists for a career-high 98 points, leading the Thrashers in team scoring for the second consecutive season, while finishing eighth overall in league scoring. He also became the first Thrashers player to score 50 goals in a season.
In the 2006–07 NHL season, Kovalchuk's point production dropped for the first time in his career. He finished with 42 goals and 34 assists for 76 points. During a game against the Nashville Predators on January 11, 2006, Predators coach Barry Trotz accused Kovalchuk with "always with an illegal stick." Trotz had asked the referees to check Kovalchuk's stick following a Thrashers goal, but claimed that Kovalchuk was able to switch his stick before the referees could check. Despite his drop in production on the season, Kovalchuk and the Thrashers qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Kovalchuk scored one goal and one assist in his NHL playoffs debut as the team lost in the opening round to the New York Rangers in four games.
In 2007–08, Kovalchuk scored two consecutive hat tricks in a loss to the Ottawa Senators and a win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on November 1 and 3, 2007, respectively. Later that season, on January 23, 2008, Kovalchuk was suspended for one game by the NHL for a hit from behind on New York Rangers defenseman Michal Rozsíval in a game a day prior. He finished with his second 52-goal season in three years, along with 35 assists for 87 points.
With the departure of Bobby Holík to the New Jersey Devils in the 2008 off-season, the Thrashers' captaincy remained vacant for the first half of the 2008–09 season. Kovalchuk served as one of five alternate captains to start the season until the alternates collectively requested to general manager Don Waddell and coach John Anderson for Kovalchuk to take over the captaincy. Soon thereafter, on January 11, 2009, Kovalchuk was named Holík's successor and the sixth team captain in Thrashers' history during the team's Casino Night charity event. The announcement came amidst speculation that the Thrashers were looking to trade Kovalchuk, as his contract was set to expire at the end of the following season. Kovalchuk completed his first season as team captain with 43 goals for his fifth consecutive 40-goal season and 91 points.
Near the beginning of the 2009–10 season, Kovalchuk scored the 300th and 301st goal of his NHL career in a 4–2 win during the St. Louis Blues' home opener on October 8, 2009. He was leading the league in goals several weeks into the season when he suffered a broken foot after blocking shot in a game against the San Jose Sharks on October 24.New Jersey Devils Kovalchuk (top) playing for the New Jersey Devils, alongside Travis Zajac (#19, foreground), Nick Palmieri (#32), and Mark Fayne (#34).
In the final year of his contract, Kovalchuk and the Thrashers could not come to an agreement on an extension. Thrashers general manager Don Waddell reportedly offered 12-year, $101 million and seven-year, $70 million contracts, both of which Kovalchuk turned down. Rather than potentially losing him to unrestricted free agency in the off-season, Kovalchuk was traded on February 4, 2010, to the New Jersey Devils. Atlanta received defenseman Johnny Oduya, rookie forward Niclas Bergfors, junior prospect Patrice Cormier and a first-round selection in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in exchange for Kovalchuk and defenseman Anssi Salmela; the teams also traded second round selections in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Kovalchuk recorded two assists the following day in his Devils' debut, a 4–3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 5. Kovalchuk eventually ended the season with 41 goals along with 44 assists, for 85 points split between Atlanta and New Jersey. On February 10, 2011, Kovalchuk scored the game-winning goal in a game over the Maple Leafs to give Jacques Lemaire the 600th win of his coaching career.Contract controversy
Kovalchuk became an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2010. On July 19, after receiving offers from other teams, Kovalchuk agreed to a 17-year, $102 million deal to remain with the Devils. The length of the deal broke the record for the longest contract in NHL history. The contract, however, was blocked by the NHL the next day on the grounds that it circumvented the league's salary cap. Arbitrator Richard Bloch heard the union's appeal, and ultimately nullified the deal.
Another contract was submitted to the NHL. During the early morning hours of September 4, 2010, the league approved the contract along with a new agreement with the National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA). The contract is a 15-year, $100 million deal.
Consequently, the NHL penalized the Devils for trying to circumvent the NHL salary cap with Kovalchuk's original contract. As a result, the Devils surrendered $3 million, a third-round draft choice in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and one future first round draft choice within the next four seasons. The Devils decided to use their first-round draft pick in the 2011 and 2012 NHL Entry Drafts, and were to surrender their first-round pick in 2014. On March 6, 2014, however, the NHL announced they would forgive part of the $3 million fine and grant the Devils the 30th pick in the first round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.2010–2012 Kovalchuk with the Devils during the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.
Kovalchuk recorded a Gordie Howe hat trick – a goal, an assist, and a fight – on February 4, 2012, the two-year anniversary of his trade to the Devils, against the Philadelphia Flyers. This was the first such hat trick ever recorded by Kovalchuk and second in the Devils' franchise, following Adam Henrique the month before. Kovalchuk assisted on two goals by teammate Kurtis Foster, scored a short-handed goal, then fought Brayden Schenn after a scrum formed when Flyers forward Zac Rinaldo performed a slew-foot on Devils captain Zach Parise.
Kovalchuk recorded his first scoring hat trick as a member of the Devils on February 14, 2012, during a 4–1 victory in Buffalo against the Sabres.
On March 8, Kovalchuk's 13th career hat trick and 2nd hat trick as a New Jersey Devil was recorded. The Devils won 5–1 against the New York Islanders, with Kovalchuk being the first star of the night.
On March 20, Kovalchuk became the 87th player in NHL history to score 400 goals. It was the lone goal of a 1–0 victory over the Ottawa Senators. He was given third star of the night.
Kovalchuk ended the 2011–12 season with seven game-deciding shootout goals and 11 shootout goals in total, setting a new record in both categories. The league first introduced shootouts in 2005. Kovalchuk and the Devils won the 2011–12 Eastern Conference finals against the New York Rangers in 6 games, setting a Stanley Cup meeting with the Los Angeles Kings. Despite leading the playoffs in scoring through the first three rounds, Kovalchuk was playing with a herniated disc and was largely ineffective against the Los Angeles Kings, scoring just one point in the series, an empty-net goal in Game 4, as the Devils fell to the Kings in six games.SKA Saint Petersburg Kovalchuk with SKA Saint Petersburg in 2012.
As a result of the 2012–13 season lockout of the NHL, Kovalchuk elected to sign a temporary contract with SKA Saint Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) on September 18, 2012. Kovalchuk played in Russia until a labor agreement was reached between the NHLPA and the NHL in January. Kovalchuk was named captain of SKA Saint Petersburg at his contract signing. In addition, Kovalchuk was the subject of criticism for not returning to the United States immediately after the lockout ended, instead electing to be one of two participating NHL players in the KHL All Star Game (the other being Pavel Datsyuk). Kovalchuk served as the captain of the Western Conference and returned to the United States to the Devils' training camp immediately after.
On July 11, 2013, Kovalchuk chose to quit the NHL at the age of 30. Although Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello knew that Kovalchuk had been considering retirement since before the 2012–13 shortened season, Kovalchuk's departure came as a surprise to the public. Upon leaving, Kovalchuk had $77 million and 12 years remaining on his contract. Kovalchuk claimed that he desired to return home to Russia along with his family, though it is speculated that money had quite an influence as well, due to the higher total salary Kovalchuk will receive in Russia via the far lower Russian tax rate compared to the U.S. With the crash of the Russian ruble in December 2014, however, that no longer remains the case, and Kovalchuk's tax-effected NHL salary would be greater than his KHL proceeds. Kovalchuk tallied 417 goals and 816 points in 816 games in total in the NHL.
On July 15, 2013, Kovalchuk signed a four-year contract with SKA Saint Petersburg of the KHL. The contract, signed less than a week after Kovalchuk's retirement from the NHL, is alleged to be comparable to his former contract with the Devils. He helped the team win the 2014–15 Gagarin Cup for the first time. He was chosen as the MVP of 2015 Gagarin Cup playoffs, but passed the award to Evgenii Dadonov. He won a second Gagarin Cup, again with SKA Saint Petersburg, in 2016–17.Los Angeles Kings
On June 23, 2018, it was announced that Kovalchuk and the Los Angeles Kings agreed to a three-year contract with an average yearly value of $6.25 million, with the contract becoming official on July 1.International play
Kovalchuk won his first medals with Russia in a major international event at the IIHF World U18 Championships, earning silver and gold medals in 2000 and 2001, respectively. He also competed for Russia at the World Junior Championships in 2001, but finished seventh.
The following year, Kovalchuk made his senior international debut with Russia at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, during his rookie NHL season with the Atlanta Thrashers. He recorded three points in six games to help Russia to a bronze medal finish. He then made his World Championships debut in 2003, but failed to medal.
Kovalchuk made his second straight Winter Olympics appearance in 2006 in Turin. He had a four-goal game on February 19 in a 9–2 win over Latvia, but returned to Atlanta without a medal, losing in the bronze medal game.
In 2008, Kovalchuk played in the IIHF World Championship, held in Quebec City. He scored his only two goals of the tournament in the gold medal game against Team Canada – once to force the game into overtime, then the game-winner to give Russia the championship. The following year, he led Russia to a second straight gold medal over Canada in the 2009 IIHF World Championship and was named the tournament MVP.
In May 2010, Kovalchuk played for Russia at IIHF World Championship in Germany, finishing second.Records NHL
Bold indicates led leagueRegular season Playoffs Season Team League GP G A Pts PIM GP G A Pts PIM 1999–00 Spartak Moscow RUS-2 49 44 12 56 17 — — — — — 1999–00 Spartak Moscow 2 RUS-3 2 2 1 3 14 — — — — — 2000–01 Spartak Moscow RUS-2 40 28 63 91 46 12 14 4 18 38 2001–02 Atlanta Thrashers NHL 65 29 22 51 28 — — — — — 2002–03 Atlanta Thrashers NHL 81 38 29 67 57 — — — — — 2003–04 Atlanta Thrashers NHL 81 41 46 87 63 — — — — — 2004–05 Ak Bars Kazan RSL 53 19 23 42 72 4 0 1 1 0 2005–06 Khimik Moscow Oblast RSL 11 8 5 13 24 — — — — — 2005–06 Atlanta Thrashers NHL 78 52 46 98 68 — — — — — 2006–07 Atlanta Thrashers NHL 82 42 34 76 66 4 1 1 2 19 2007–08 Atlanta Thrashers NHL 79 52 35 87 52 — — — — — 2008–09 Atlanta Thrashers NHL 79 43 48 91 50 — — — — — 2009–10 Atlanta Thrashers NHL 49 31 27 58 45 — — — — — 2009–10 New Jersey Devils NHL 27 10 17 27 8 5 2 4 6 6 2010–11 New Jersey Devils NHL 81 31 29 60 28 — — — — — 2011–12 New Jersey Devils NHL 77 37 46 83 33 23 8 11 19 6 2012–13 SKA St. Petersburg KHL 36 18 24 42 12 — — — — — 2012–13 New Jersey Devils NHL 37 11 20 31 18 — — — — — 2013–14 SKA St. Petersburg KHL 45 16 24 40 38 10 3 2 5 31 2014–15 SKA St. Petersburg KHL 54 25 30 55 69 22 8 11 19 12 2015–16 SKA St. Petersburg KHL 50 16 33 49 24 4 0 0 0 2 2016–17 SKA St. Petersburg KHL 60 32 46 78 47 18 6 3 9 35 2017–18 SKA St. Petersburg KHL 53 31 32 63 26 15 6 4 10 12 NHL totals 816 417 399 816 516 32 11 16 27 31 KHL totals 298 138 189 327 216 69 23 20 43 92 International Year Team Event Result GP G A Pts PIM 2000 Russia WJC18 6 2 3 5 6 2001 Russia WJC18 6 11 4 15 26 2001 Russia WJC 7th 7 4 2 6 37 2002 Russia OG 6 1 2 3 14 2003 Russia WC 5th 7 4 0 4 6 2004 Russia WC 10th 6 3 1 4 6 2004 Russia WCH 5th 4 1 0 1 4 2005 Russia WC 9 3 3 6 4 2006 Russia OG 4th 8 4 1 5 31 2007 Russia WC 9 2 5 7 10 2008 Russia WC 8 2 6 8 52 2009 Russia WC 9 5 9 14 4 2010 Russia OG 6th 4 1 2 3 0 2010 Russia WC 9 2 10 12 2 2011 Russia WC 4th 9 3 5 8 6 2013 Russia WC 6th 8 8 5 13 29 2014 Russia OG 5th 5 3 0 3 2 2015 Russia WC 10 2 3 5 2 2018 OAR OG 6 5 2 7 4 Junior totals 19 17 9 26 69 Senior totals 117 49 54 103 176 All-Star Games Year Location G A P 2004 St. Paul 1 0 1 2008 Atlanta 0 1 1 2009 Montreal 0 0 0 2013 Chelyabinsk 3 0 3 2014 Bratislava 1 2 3 2015 Sochi 4 2 6 NHL All-Star totals 1 1 2 KHL All-Star totals 8 4 12 Awards and achievements RSL/KHL