Earlier this season, there were many narratives that former NHL superstar Ilya Kovalchuk was on his last legs and could not keep up in the league. His time with the Los Angeles Kings was less than memorable. However, the once superstar has found a second chance in the NHL.

The 36-year-old Russian forward has proven to be a great fit with the Canadiens. In 12 games since joining the club, Kovalchuk has put up five goals and 10 points along with a +5 rating. He has been one of the few bright spots in what has been a subpar injury-filled season for the Montreal Canadiens lately.

In fact, it was due to injury that Kovalchuk even got his chance in Montreal. The Habs needed a right-winger when Brendan Gallagher went down with a concussion and Kovalchuk was available for cheap.

Sure, Kovalchuk is 36 and most likely close to the end, but his career has taken a turn over the past month. He is now on the team’s top six and has reached a great level of success during his time with the Canadiens.

Even if it’s a small sample size, 10 points in 12 games is not something that should be taken for granted. Kovalchuk has proven that he can fit in very well with the Habs lineup. The reason for this is that he has been allowed to do his thing without any punishment.

Kovalchuk is an offensive player who isn’t a strong defender so he needs to be able to play his game to be successful. The Kings were expecting too much defense from an offensive player whose game is really about scoring. This is why it didn’t work out in LA. Now, Claude Julien is playing him with good two-way players to open up his offensive game.

He is currently on a line with rookie Nick Suzuki and Joel Armia which is slowly showing that they can be a good second line going forward.

All three players have shown that they can be very effective together. While Kovalchuk’s defense isn’t the best, he has shown that he can still hold his own and rely on both Suzuki and Armia to steal the puck for him. In the small time that the line has had together they have dominated play in the offensive zone.

Keeping Kovalchuk for another year would be great as the Canadiens lack a true goal scorer which he can still be. It is clear that he’s not the same Kovalchuk from the Thrashers, but he can still fire the puck.

He can also serve as a mentor for the young players as he’s had nearly two full decades of professional hockey under his belt. This is another reason why playing with Suzuki is a good thing, as it will also help the 20-year-old gain more experience while playing in a top six scoring role. Having experience and leadership on your line as a young player can be extremely beneficial. Therefore, the Habs should keep Kovalchuk as he can help guide the future offensive stars.

At Kovalchuk’s age it is hard to see a team actually throwing a first round pick to get his services. With that being said, what Kovalchuk brings to the Canadiens is more valuable than a mid round draft pick. When drafting in the second or third round you are aren’t guaranteed to find an impact player, so it can be a risk losing a talent like Kovalchuk for even one year.

Kovalchuk’s natural goal is not matched by anyone on the roster and even next year with his shot, he should manage to put up decent numbers. However, Kovalchuk’s presence goes beyond his skills as he’s also helps rejuvenate his teammates. Kovalchuk looks like a player who has just re-found the love for the game of hockey and it is rubbing off on his teammates.

Marc Bergevin should really start working on getting Kovalchuk a deal for next season. The Habs got this guy for nothing and now he’s loving life and making their team better. He could also mentor future NHL sniper Cole Caufield. Overall, Kovalchuk fits in well, even as he’s aging, so why not keep him around, as his shot and hockey smarts will still remain, even if his speed may falter. He could also potentially play into his 40s just like Jaromir Jagr, if given the right opportunity.


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