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Kovalchuk to make Canadiens debut

Forward to play against Jets on Monday, first game since Nov. 9

by Sean Farrell / Independent Correspondent

MONTREAL -- Ilya Kovalchuk will make his Montreal Canadiens debut against the Winnipeg Jets at Bell Centre on Monday (7 p.m. ET; TSN2, RDS, TSN3, NHL.TV).

The 36-year-old forward agreed to terms on a one-year, two-way, $700,000 contract with the Canadiens on Friday.

It will be his first game since Nov. 9 with the Los Angeles Kings, coincidentally played at Bell Centre. He was scratched for 18 straight games before the Kings placed him on unconditional waivers Dec. 16 and terminated his contract the next day.

"I'm pumped," Kovalchuk said Monday. "I'm very excited. You know the way the fans, the city has responded, it's crazy. So I have a lot of things to prove. And I'm not going to do anything special, but I just want to try to help the team win."

Kovalchuk practiced Monday on a line with center Phillip Danault and left wing Tomas Tatar and also was on the first power play.

"Obviously the coach put me on one of the top lines so it's a lot of responsibility," Kovalchuk said. "So we're going to talk about it after and see about more of the details, but I'm feeling good. I'm ready to go."

Kovalchuk said he wasn't ready to stop playing and is happy the Canadiens are giving him the opportunity to continue in the NHL.

"It's crazy, I feel like I was here for a long time," he said. "The guys gave me the warm welcome that I appreciate that very much. But the win is going to put the group more together so we need that."

Kovalchuk will wear his familiar No. 17 with the Canadiens, with an assist from former Kings teammate Nate Thompson, who got defenseman Brett Kulak to give up the number and switch to No. 77.

"I did it through [Nate] because I wasn't here," Kovalchuk said. "But tomorrow I've got a little present for him. So I appreciate that. It means a lot to me." Kovalchuk gave Kulak a Rolex watch with an engraved note of thanks.

Video: LAK@CGY: Kovalchuk knocks rebound past Rittich

Kovalchuk signed a three-year, $18.75 million contract with the Kings on July 1, 2018, after five seasons with SKA St. Petersburg in the Kontinental Hockey League. But he had nine points (three goals, six assists) in 17 games this season, and 43 points (19 goals, 24 assists) in 81 games with Los Angeles.

"I just wanted the opportunity for me to get a fresh start because obviously it didn't work out the way I wanted it to in L.A.," Kovalchuk said. "I appreciate everything they did for me and for my family. It's a great organization with great players there, but I'm here and I'm excited. It's the first time ever I'm going to play for a Canadian team and it's obviously different, you can tell already. I don't think we had that many media guys all year, all last year."

Montreal (18-17-7) is 0-4-1 in its past five games and is without forwards Jonathan Drouin (upper body) and Paul Byron (lower body), who have each missed 22 games; Joel Armia (upper body), who has missed four games; and Brendan Gallagher (upper body), who has missed one. All of them are on injured reserve.

"We want to make the playoffs," Kovalchuk said. "That's our goal, that's what the coaches are talking about, and we're not that far away. So I think right now this is a key time of the season … so we've got to win games."

The No. 1 pick by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2001 NHL Draft, Kovalchuk has 859 points (436 goals, 423 assists) in 897 NHL games with the Thrashers, New Jersey Devils and Kings, including 43 points (19 goals, 24 assists) in 81 games since returning to the NHL, and 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists) in 32 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

He scored 52 goals in 2005-06 and in 2007-08 and has six seasons of at least 40 goals. He had 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists) in 23 playoff games when the Devils reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, which they lost to the Kings in six games.

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