NHL.com examines how forward Ilya Kovalchuk returning to the NHL and agreeing to terms on a three-year contract with the Los Angeles Kings impacts the fantasy landscape.
Veteran wing Ilya Kovalchuk will be back in the NHL next season after agreeing to terms with the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday, and fantasy owners should immediately consider him a top 50 overall player again.
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The 35-year-old has played the past five seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League after leaving the New Jersey Devils following the 2012-13 season. But even in the later stages of his career he is a dynamic playmaker who will have a strong center on his line with the Kings in either Anze Kopitar, a finalist for the Hart Trophy and winner of the Selke Trophy this season, or Jeff Carter. Kovalchuk led the KHL in scoring this season with 63 points (31 goals, 32 assists) in 53 games and instantly becomes the best wing on the Kings roster.
Kovalchuk will likely slot in on the top line with Kopitar and is a lock to play on the first power-play unit with Kopitar, Carter and elite defenseman Drew Doughty given the Russian forward's impressive scoring pedigree. He has two NHL seasons of at least 90 points, six seasons of at least 80 points and nine seasons of at least 60 points.
Video: Robitaille on Kovalchuk signing, Kings' scouts
With 816 points (417 goals, 399 assists) in 816 NHL games for the Devils and Atlanta Thrashers, Kovalchuk is one of five active players averaging a point per game over at least 750 games. The other members of that club are fantasy stalwarts Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Patrick Kane. Even though Kovalchuk played the past five seasons in Russia, he still ranks ninth among active NHL players in power-play points (315).
In his most recent NHL season with the Devils, Kovalchuk led all forwards with 24:44 per game overall and 5:28 per game on the power play; no NHL forward has reached those averages in any of the next five seasons. He won't be relied upon for such a high volume of minutes with the Kings, but could still be among the forward leaders in ice time with them.
If you're worried about Kovalchuk's age or transition back to the NHL level, there are two recent examples of fantasy standouts in each circumstance. Right wing Alexander Radulov, who returned to the NHL from the KHL two seasons ago at 30 years old, had 54 points (18 goals, 36 assists) in 76 games with the Montreal Canadiens in 2016-17, and then scored 72 points (27 goals, 45 assists) in 82 games for the Dallas Stars with exposure to forwards Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin this season. San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton had 82 points (19 goals, 63 assists) in 82 games during the 2015-16 season at 36 years old.
The addition of Kovalchuk boosts the fantasy value of Kopitar (18th in Yahoo), Carter (missed most of this season with leg injury) and Doughty (45th), who could become an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2019. When you consider Kopitar scored 92 points (35 goals, 57 assists) and was a top 20 fantasy player without an elite wing, the sky is the limit with exposure to a scorer of Kovalchuk's caliber.
Kovalchuk could also help wing Dustin Brown, who finished 30th in Yahoo covering all six standard categories and hits on the top line with Kopitar, as long as coach John Stevens goes with a line of Kopitar, Kovalchuk and Brown. The Kings will likely roll with that top line and have familiar linemates Carter, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson play together on the second line.
But Brown could also lose fantasy value if the Kings either round out their top line with a younger wing like Pearson (played on Kopitar's line down the stretch this season), Toffoli or Alex Iafallo. The power-play situation is also worth noting from a fantasy standpoint, with middle-round picks Brown, Toffoli and defenseman Jake Muzzin at risk of losing first-unit usage.
Fantasy owners can feasibly land Kopitar in the second round of a 12-team fantasy draft and then go all-in on Los Angeles by reaching for Kovalchuk or taking a safe bet in Doughty as a first defenseman in the fourth round. The Kings, who were shut out twice and held to a total of three goals in a four-game sweep by the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, will be a feared offensive team, and possibly even a championship contender again, after winning the Kovalchuk sweepstakes.
Projection: 77 games played, 33 goals, 37 assists, 70 points, 29 PPP
Draft range in 12-team fantasy league: Rounds 4 or 5 (picks 37-60)