Montreal Canadiens: Checking In On Former Habs Forward Ilya Kovalchuk

MONTREAL, QC - FEBRUARY 08: Ilya Kovalchuk Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QC - FEBRUARY 08: Ilya Kovalchuk Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

The Montreal Canadiens added Ilya Kovalchuk for a few short weeks. They traded him at the trade deadline to the Washington Capitals. How has Kovalchuk played with his new team?

The Montreal Canadiens playoff hopes were hanging by a thread when the calendar flipped to 2020. They made a few desperate moves to try and improve their lineup in the second half of the season. They traded a fourth round pick for Marco Scandella and they also signed Ilya Kovalchuk.

Kovalchuk had disappointed during his year and a half stint with the Los Angeles Kings. He signed a three-year contract in 2018 worth more than $18 million in total. He scored 34 points in 64 games during his first season in California. This season wasn’t much better as the big Russian winger had nine points in 17 games.

At this point, the Kings had enough. Their season was going much worse than the Canadiens and keeping the veteran Kovalchuk with his huge cap hit didn’t make a lot of sense. The problem was they couldn’t find a trade partner because of that contract and his low production.

So, unable to find another option, the Kings and Kovalchuk agreed to tear up the final year and a half of his contract. This made the first overall pick from the 2001 NHL Draft a free agent. Teams were not exactly lining up to offer him a similar contract to the one he just set ablaze. It appears teams weren’t offering much of anything at all.

After losing a few wingers to injury, Habs general manager Marc Bergevin decided to offer Kovalchuk about as little as he could. The 36 year old former superstar decided to take the one-year contract worth $700,000 that was actually a two-way deal that would have paid him $70,000 if he was sent to the minor leagues.

Kovalchuk played well during his stint with the Canadiens. He bounced around the top three lines in his 22 games with a Habs sweater on and put up six goals and 13 points in that time. He scored overtime winners and shootout winners and brought an infectious passion to the Canadiens locker room in an otherwise somber season.

With the Canadiens even further from the playoff picture six weeks after acquiring Kovalchuk, he was on the trade block as the trade deadline approached. The night before the deadline hit, Kovalchuk was on the move once again as the Habs dealt him to the Washington Capitals for a third round pick.

With the NHL season on pause at the moment, it gives us a chance to check in on some former players like Kovalchuk. Though he only played 22 games in Montreal, he left quite an impression on the fanbase. It isn’t difficult to imagine a lot of Habs fans cheering for the Capitals in the playoffs because of the presence of Kovalchuk.

Since his trade on February 23rd, Kovalchuk has played seven games with the Capitals. Though it would have been fun to watch him join a couple other Russians in Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Kuznetsov on a line, Kovalchuk has mostly played a third line role with the Caps.

He has played primarily with former Habs centre Lars Eller and Carl Hagelin. The Capitals are a Stanley Cup contender and that is a solid third line that demonstrates how much depth this team has this season.

In his seven games since the Habs trade, Kovalchuk has scored one goal and three assists. It is a pretty small sample size but it is a pace that would result in 47 points over a full season. In other words, he is providing excellent depth scoring for the Capitals. His one goal was a patented Kovalchuk one-timer off a nice feed from Eller.

Kovalchuk has played between 12:57 and 16:57 in his seven games with the Caps. Eller and Hagelin are known more for their defensive play, but they can both contribute offensively in the right situation as well. Playing on a third line with a player like Kovalchuk, who can fire a slapshot over the shoulder of a goaltender at any moment, is a great situation for both Eller and Hagelin.

Teams always need depth scoring in the playoffs if they want to go on a deep run. You can not rely on four or five forwards to carry the team’s offence for two straight months in the postseason. The Washington Capitals won’t have to worry about that with an impressive third line of Kovalchuk, Eller and Hagelin.

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The former Habs winger was off to a solid start with a contending team. If the NHL gets back to business later this year and Kovalchuk can pick up where he left off, the Capitals could find themselves going deep into the playoffs once again.