Ever since the news broke that Ilya Kovalchuk wants to come back to the NHL, preferring to play in New York or Florida, the Rangers have been linked to them. Elliotte Friedman added fuel to that fire during this week’s 30 Thoughts, mentioning that the Rangers also appear to have interest.
It would be silly for Jeff Gorton to simply ignore Kovalchuk’s return. After all, he’s been a point-per-game player in the KHL. At 34 years old and at that elite talent level, he’s still got gas left in the tank. However the major question isn’t whether he has gas left, it’s how much. Is he going to be another Jaromir Jagr, putting up 40 points until he turns 900 years old? Or will he fizzle out after half a season?
Before trying to predict if Kovalchuk is going to be useful, the bigger question is where the Rangers can play him. Even if you assume the Rangers lose one of Michaal Grabner, Jesper Fast, or Oscar Lindberg in the expansion draft, those are all bottom-six spots. Are the Rangers comfortable putting Kovalchuk on the third line? Is Kovalchuk ok with that role? He might be, assuming he gets powerplay time, but it’s still a legitimate question.
Heck, would New Jersey even consider trading him in the division, to the Rangers no less?
Even if both sides are comfortable with a third line/powerplay specialist role, then the salary becomes a major talking point. Predicting Kovalchuk’s salary is near impossible. Alex Radulov just came back from the KHL and got a one-year deal from Montreal for $5.75 million. However he was 30 years old, four years younger than Kovalchuk. I’d still venture a guess that he would get a one year deal, but at less than what Radulov got based on age. But then again, Kovalchuk is a known NHL entity, Radulov was not. So…I dunno.
However when it comes to fitting in, Kovalchuk could certainly have a potentially large impact with the Rangers. For starters, he’s a right-handed forward. Second, he’s a pure shooter. Just those two alone make him worth the look. But his shot is absolutely lethal. It’s perhaps one of the best wrist shots in the game today. When he has time to tee it up, and he doesn’t require much, he hits his spot with power.
Kovalchuk would also serve as a mentor to Pavel Buchnevich. Buchnevich is so skilled, but is still raw talent. Kovalchuk should be able to help him hone that ability. Perhaps it also keeps Buchnevich –who has an out-clause to the KHL– with the Rangers, given the NHL’s withdrawal from the Olympics. That factor also plays into potentially bringing Igor Shestyorkin into the fold in a few years. That’s pure speculation, but it’s certainly something being talked about.
In the end, I don’t think Kovalchuk is a fit at this current moment. Now that could change with a blockbuster trade, sending a forward out to address the massive blue line issues. But as of today, I don’t see a legitimate roster spot for him. But if things change, and the Rangers land him, it has the potential to be a game-changer.
"Breaking down the Ilya Kovalchuk rumors",