Ilya Kovalchuk (via KHL/YouTube)
Alex Kovalev said earlier this week that he’s interested in a potential return to the NHL, but at 42, it might be tough for the one-time sniper to land a deal. There are, however, several former NHLers who should be considered as possible returnees. They’re not all stars, either, as there are some effective depth players to be plucked from overseas.
In the past week, there have been more than a few rumors of potential returns to the NHL. The list of players who could make comebacks is quite interesting, too, including veterans hoping for one last shot, like Alex Kovalev, who said he hopes he gets one last chance.
During an interview with Le Journal De Montreal Thursday, Kovalev said that he has been staying in shape, training three times a week and getting out weekly to play. When asked whether or not he could be in the league still, Kovalev added that maybe this could be the year he makes his return.
“That’s why I keep myself in shape,” he said. “Perhaps I will receive (a tryout) next season.”
While Kovalev’s chances seem slim – he’s been out of the league for two years and last played in the Swiss ‘B’ league – there’s always the chance that someone will take a shot on the 42-year-old who, when things were going well, was one of the most skilled puck handlers and goal-scorers of his generation.
There are some players who do stand a shot at getting back into the league, and these are the five we hope to see back in the league soon:
5. Matt D’Agostini
D’Agostini hasn’t been gone long, having spent only the 2014-15 campaign in Switzerland with Geneve-Servette of the NLA, but he could be a solid depth forward in the NHL if he were given the shot to come back to North America.
Only 28, there’s still a lot of time left in D’Agostini’s career, too, and he’s proven he can score at every single level. While he wasn’t the most consistent NHL scorer – he was a 20-goal scorer in 2010-11 but followed it up with just nine tallies in 55 games the next season – D’Agostini could provide some punch in a bottom-six role.
On top of it all, he would come cheap. In his final season in the league, D’Agostini inked a one-year, $550,000 deal.
4. Pierre-Marc Bouchard
A first-round, eighth overall draft pick of the Wild in 2002, Bouchard’s NHL career was derailed by injuries, but this past season in Switzerland, he proved he still has the scoring touch that saw him put up 13 goals and 63 points in 81 games in 2007-08.
Following a 10-year stint in Minnesota, Bouchard signed a one-year deal with the New York Islanders, but he failed to catch on. He ended up suiting up for only 28 games with the Isles, notching four goals and nine points before a trade sent him to the Chicago Blackhawks. Bouchard didn’t make his way into a single game with the Blackhawks, however, and once his deal was up, he was headed for Switzerland.
With the NLA’s Zug, Bouchard managed 17 goals and 51 points in 49 games and he’ll be back with the club next season, but 2016-17 might be a possibility for the three-time 50-plus point getter.
3. Nigel Dawes
For the past four seasons, Dawes has been playing with Barys Astana of the KHL, but the 30-year-old would be an intriguing signing were he to be brought back to the NHL. He was a consistent scorer in the AHL and, though it never quite translated to the NHL, he’s seemingly found the formula to score consistently in Russia.
Over the past four seasons, Dawes goal totals have consistently risen – in 2011-12, he notched 16, but 2014-15 saw him put up 32 markers for Astana. In 60 games with the KHL club, he notched 56 points in 60 games.
His last shot in the NHL came in 2010-11 when he got 13 games in the big league split between the Atlanta Thrashers and Montreal Canadiens. He only managed one point, an assist, in those 13 games, but he was coming off of an incredibly productive season as a member of the Calgary Flames a year earlier. With the Flames, Dawes scored 14 goals and 32 points in 66 games.
2. Alexander Radulov
While there was controversy surrounding his last return to the NHL – he was infamously scratched for a playoff game shortly after coming back to Nashville – Radulov has all the ability to still contribute to a team’s top six. Named the KHL MVP for 2014-15 after scoring 24 goals and 71 points in 46 games, Radulov coming to the NHL would be a quick way for a team to boost scoring.
In total, he’s only played 154 NHL games, but most of those came during the early days of his career. Even still, he managed 45 goals and 102 points with the Predators before leaving for the KHL. Coming back now, right in the middle of his prime, could translate to even better big league totals.
What could help him make his return, too, is that he’s now an unrestricted free agent. There’s nothing holding him back for seeking out big money on the open market. According to reports, Colorado Avalanche have reportedly shown interest.
1. Ilya Kovalchuk
If Kovalchuk wants to make his NHL return, he’ll likely have to wait unitl the 2018-19 season, when he’ll be heading towards his 36th birthday. But even a 36-year-old Kovalchuk would be enticing to more than a handful of clubs.
At one point, Kovalchuk was one of the most feared scorers in the entire NHL, scoring at least 40 goals in five straight seasons between 2003-04 and 2008-09. His most prolific season came in 2005-06 when he lit up the league for 52 goals and 96 points as a member of the Atlanta Thrashers.
Should he return, Kovalchuk would likely command a big salary, but it would be a worthy experiment, especially considering he was a near point-per-game player for the New Jersey Devils in his final NHL campaign. In 37 games in 2012-13, Kovalchuk scored 11 goals and 31 points. In his career, Kovalchuk notched 417 goals and 816 points in 816 games.