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Kovalchuk will talk with Bruins, GM says

35-year-old free agent forward played past five seasons in Russia

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins plan to speak to the agents for Ilya Kovalchuk, general manager Don Sweeney said Wednesday.

"We're going to just talk to his camp," said Sweeney, who said Kovalchuk was likely to be at the meeting but didn't say when it would take place. "He's got things that he's looking for and we'll see where it goes."

Kovalchuk, a 35-year-old forward who played the past five seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League, reportedly cannot sign with an NHL team until July 1 but can agree to a contract before then.

He reportedly has met with the Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks. The Los Angeles Times reported that he met with Kings president Luc Robitaille and general manager Rob Blake on Friday, and TSN said he met with the Sharks on Monday.

Kovalchuk hasn't played in the NHL since the 2012-13 season, when he had 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists) in 37 games for the New Jersey Devils. Playing for St. Petersburg SKA, Kovalchuk led the KHL in scoring this season with 63 points (31 goals, 32 assists) in 53 games. He has 285 points (120 goals, 165 assists) in 262 games during the past five seasons in the KHL.

Sweeney said he's not worried about Kovalchuk getting reacclimated to the NHL after his time in Russia.

"I don't think it's a problem integrating into the NHL," Sweeney said. "How he fits onto your team, the dynamic there, where he plays, those are things that obviously are unknowns. You can project and predict, but until the coach gets him on the ice and puts him in places, you just never know. But as far as the NHL, no concern there."

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Sweeney said he likes Kovalchuk's upside.

"He's a guy who plays in your top six, helps your power play. He's a big, strong guy (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) that can score goals," Sweeney said. "And he wants to win. He's coming back over here for a chance to win."

Boston (50-20-12) finished second in the Atlantic Division this season before losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Second Round.

Signing Kovalchuk would almost certainly mean the Bruins would not re-sign forward Rick Nash. The Bruins acquired Nash in a trade with the New York Rangers on Feb. 25 to play right wing on the second line centered by David Krejci. Nash sustained a concussion playing 11 games for Boston and missed the rest of the regular season, though he returned for 12 Stanley Cup Playoff games. The 33-year-old is an unrestricted free agent.

"Financially, I just don't think it's doable unless you're really doing something to change things around to open things up," Sweeney said of signing Kovalchuk and Nash. "It's more of the [NHL salary] cap implications of exploring both those players. Any team would say, 'Well, boy we're a better team.' That's just not realistic. I've been honest about that.

"But we've had conversations with Rick's camp as well. … You just stay in communication. I think Rick enjoyed his time here. We enjoyed having him. The injury was a factor at times, but he represents a lot of stuff that we needed. So we've got to continue to explore those things, and see how the jigsaw puzzle fits."

The Detroit Red Wings and Dallas Stars also reportedly have shown interest in Kovalchuk, who was selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2001 NHL Draft by the Atlanta Thrashers. He had 816 points (417 goals, 399 assists) in 816 NHL games.

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