Ilya Kovalchuk

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Ilya Kovalchuk
Born (1983-04-15) April 15, 1983 (age 39)
Kalinin, Russian SFSR, URS
Height 6 ft 3 in (191 cm)
Weight 230 lb (100 kg; 16 st 6 lb)
Position Right wing
Shoots Right
KHL team
Former teams
SKA Saint Petersburg
Ak Bars Kazan
Khimik Moscow Oblast
Atlanta Thrashers
New Jersey Devils
National team  Russia
NHL Draft 1st overall, 2001
Atlanta Thrashers
Playing career 1999–present

Ilya Valeryevich Kovalchuk (Russian: Илья́ Вале́рьевич Ковальчу́к; born April 15, 1983) is a Russian professional ice hockey left winger currently playing for SKA Saint Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League. He debuted in the Vysshaya Liga with Spartak Moscow, before continuing his career in the National Hockey League (NHL). Drafted first overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by the Atlanta Thrashers, he began his NHL career with them in 2001–02. 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 on July 11, 2013, having played 11 seasons. Kovalchuk is fifth all-time in overtime goals scored (14), and 18th all time in goals per game average (.511). He is the seventh highest scoring Russian in NHL history.

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. Kovalchuk was nominated for the Calder Memorial Trophy as league rookie-of-the-year. He is a three-time NHL All-Star and won the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy as the league's leading goal-scorer in 2004 in a three-way tie with Jarome Iginla and Rick Nash.

Personal life

Ilya met his future wife, Nicole Andrazajtis, in 2002 after being introduced by mutual friends. Nicole was a well known singer at the time in Russia 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.[1]

Playing career

Early career

Kovalchuk played for Vysshaya Liga club Spartak Moscow for two seasons before entering the NHL.[2] 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.[3] In club-level competition, Kovalchuk wore the number 17 as a tribute to Valeri Kharlamov, a Soviet superstar in the 1970s.[4]

Atlanta Thrashers

File:Ilya Kovalchuk.jpg
Kovalchuk with the Thrashers during the 2005–06 NHL season.

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 Trophy as league rookie of the year.[3] 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.[3] 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.

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 returned to the Thrashers and 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 [56], and Jaromír Jágr of the New York Rangers [54]). 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 [playing] 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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[7] 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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9]

New Jersey Devils

Kovalchuk (top) playing for the 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.[10] 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.[11] Kovalchuk recorded two assists the following day in his Devils' debut, a 4–3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 5.[12] 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.[13]

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.[14] 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.[15]

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.[16]

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.[17]


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.[18]

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.[19]

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 Ilya 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.[20] 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.

KHL Signing

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.[21] 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.

Retirement from the NHL

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 his 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.[22][23] Kovalchuk tallied 417 goals and 816 points in 816 games in total in the NHL.[24]

SKA Saint Petersburg

On July 15, 2013, Kovalchuk signed a four-year contract with SKA Saint Petersburg of the KHL.[25] 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.[26]

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.[27]

International play

Medal record
Representing  Russia
Ice hockey
Winter Olympics
Bronze medal – third place 2002 Salt Lake City
World Championships
Gold medal – first place 2008 Canada
Gold medal – first place 2009 Switzerland
Silver medal – second place 2010 Germany
Silver medal – second place 2015 Czech Republic
Bronze medal – third place 2005 Austria
Bronze medal – third place 2007 Russia
IIHF World U18 Championships
Gold medal – first place 2001 Finland
Silver medal – second place 2000 Switzerland

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 in the 74th IIHF World Cup in Germany, finishing second.

Played for Russia in:

Awards and achievements


  • NHL record for most shootout goals in a single-season (11) (2011–12)
  • NHL record for most game-deciding shootout goals in a single-season (7) (2011–12)
  • Atlanta Thrashers franchise single season goal total, 52 (2005–06, 2007–08)

Career statistics

Regular season and playoffs

    Regular season   Playoffs
Season Team League GP G A Pts PIM GP G A Pts PIM
1999–00 Spartak Moscow RUS-2 49 57 43 100
1999–00 Spartak-2 Moscow RUS-3 2 2 1 3 14
2000–01 Spartak Moscow RUS-2 40 55 38 101 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
NHL totals 816 417 399 816 516 32 11 16 27 31
KHL totals 185 75 111 186 143 36 11 13 24 45


Year Event Place   GP G A Pts PIM
2000 WJC-U18 2nd 6 2 3 5 6
2001 WJC 7th 7 4 2 6 37
2001 WJC-U18 1st 6 11 4 15 26
2002 Oly 3rd 6 1 2 3 14
2003 WC 5th 7 4 0 4 6
2004 WC 10th 6 3 1 4 6
2004 WCH 5th 4 1 0 1 4
2005 WC 3rd 9 3 3 6 4
2006 Oly 4th 8 4 1 5 31
2007 WC 3rd 9 2 5 7 10
2008 WC 1st 8 2 6 8 52
2009 WC 1st 9 5 9 14 4
2010 Oly 6th 4 1 2 3 0
2010 WC 2nd 9 2 10 12 2
2011 WC 4th 9 3 5 8 6
2013 WC 6th 8 8 5 13 29
2014 Oly 5th 5 3 0 3 2
2015 WC 2nd 10 2 3 5 2
Junior int'l totals 19 17 9 26 69
Senior int'l totals 111 44 52 96 172

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


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  29. Russian National Hockey Team named ambassador to the 2014 Winter Olympics. – accessed 8 June 2009 Archived November 10, 2009 at the Wayback Machine

External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Rick DiPietro
NHL first overall draft pick
Succeeded by
Rick Nash
Preceded by
Dany Heatley
Atlanta Thrashers first round draft pick
Succeeded by
Kari Lehtonen
Preceded by
Milan Hejduk
(Co)Winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy
(with Jarome Iginla and Rick Nash)

Succeeded by
Jonathan Cheechoo
Preceded by
Bobby Holík
Atlanta Thrashers captain
Succeeded by
Andrew Ladd