Make room for another Russian goal scorer in the nation’s capital.
On the eve of the NHL trade deadline, the Washington Capitals acquired left wing Ilya Kovalchuk from the Montreal Canadiens for a 2020 third-round draft pick. The Canadiens retain 50% of Kovalchuk’s salary.
Kovalchuk figures to play a bottom-six role for the Capitals as they come upon the final 20-game stretch of the regular season.
He and Alex Ovechkin have played together on the Russian national team and struck up a friendship. Just two months ago, they spent time together on Christmas — while Kovalchuk was still a free agent.
“Ilya is a talented offensive player who we feel will provide us with additional depth and flexibility up front,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said in a statement. “He is a skilled forward who can make plays and contribute to our offensive game.”
Kovalchuk, 36, was the first Russian selected first overall in the NHL Draft in 2001, followed by Ovechkin three years later. Kovalchuk once starred for the Atlanta Thrashers and signed a $100 million contract with the New Jersey Devils.
He chose to retire from the NHL and play for SKA St. Petersburg in Russia before returning to North America in 2018-19.
The Capitals will be Kovalchuk’s third team this season. He couldn’t crack the lineup with Los Angeles Kings and was eventually placed on waivers, where the Canadiens claimed him. He found a steady role in Montreal and recorded six goals and seven assists in just 22 games with them.
The Canadiens are not a playoff contender going forward, so they chose to flip Kovalchuk for a draft pick. Thanks to the salary retention, he counts just $350,000 against the books for Washington.
The Kovalchuk deal is the second the Capitals have made ahead of Monday’s deadline. Last week, they acquired defenseman Brenden Dillon from San Jose for a 2020 second-round pick and a conditional 2021 third-rounder.
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