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Ilya Kovalchuk pursuing NHL return

Devils hold rights to forward, who played past four seasons in KHL

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

Forward Ilya Kovalchuk is hoping to return to the NHL next season.

The New Jersey Devils, who own Kovalchuk's rights until he turns 35 in April, recently were told by his agent, Jay Grossman, of his client's intentions to come back to the NHL.

Kovalchuk, 34, voluntarily retired from the NHL on July 11, 2013, with 12 years and $77 million remaining on a 15-year, $100 million contract he signed with the Devils on Sept. 3, 2010. He signed a four-year contract with SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League in his native Russia on July 15, 2013.

"[Kovalchuk] is looking to come back to the NHL, and from our standpoint we will keep all our options open as we move along," Devils general manager Ray Shero wrote in an email to NHL.com.

Grossman said Kovalchuk "has asked me to make his intentions known to Ray Shero and the New Jersey Devils."

When Kovalchuk left the NHL, his contract was terminated and he was placed on the voluntary retirement list. That allowed the Devils to maintain his NHL rights until he turns 35, which would be April 15. Prior to turning 35, if Kovalchuk wants to sign with another team, he would need approval from all 31 NHL teams. That's unlikely to happen, but the Devils could sign Kovalchuk and either keep him or then trade him.

Shero told TSN.ca that Grossman is free to speak to other NHL teams about a potential deal, but that a sign-and-trade has to make sense for New Jersey. Kovalchuk cannot sign until July 1 and is not eligible for the NHL Expansion Draft.

If Kovalchuk returns after he turns 35, he would be an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any NHL team without permission.

Kovalchuk, selected by the Atlanta Thrashers with the No. 1 pick of the 2001 NHL Draft, had 816 points (417 goals, 399 assists) in 816 games with the Thrashers and Devils. He scored 52 goals twice and at least 30 goals nine times in 11 seasons.

The Thrashers traded Kovalchuk to the Devils with defenseman Anssi Salmela and a second-round pick in the 2010 NHL Draft for defenseman Johnny Oduya, forward Niclas Bergfors, center Patrice Cormier and first- and second-round picks in the 2010 NHL Draft, on Feb. 4, 2010.

In 2011-12, Kovalchuk's first full season with the Devils, he had 83 points (37 goals, 46 assists) and helped them reach the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.

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