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Ilya Kovalchuk's career highlights

by John Kreiser

Ilya Kovalchuk's career began with his arrival from Russia as the first player taken in the 2001 NHL Draft. It ended Thursday when he announced his retirement from the NHL and his return to Russia with his family.

Kovalchuk was one of the most dynamic players in hockey during his 11 seasons in the NHL, first with the Atlanta Thrashers then with the New Jersey Devils. He averaged exactly a point per game -- 816 points in 816 regular-season games -- and his 417 goals were the most of any player in the League during that span.

Here's a look at some of his highlights:

2001-02: In 65 games as a rookie with the second-year Thrashers, Kovalchuk scored 29 goals and had 22 assists for 51 points. A late-season shoulder injury may have cost him the Calder Trophy, which went to teammate Dany Heatley, who had 26 goals and 67 points in 82 games.

2003-04: After improving to 38 goals and 67 points in 2002-03, Kovalchuk tied Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames for the Rocket Richard Trophy by sharing the NHL goal-scoring lead with 41. That earned him Second-Team All-Star status. He also played in his first NHL All-Star Game.

Ryan Carter
Goals: 417 | Assists: 399 | Pts: 816
Shots: 2,967 | +/-: -116

2005-06: After spending the lockout playing in Russia, Kovalchuk returned and set career-highs with 52 goals and 98 points. He led the NHL with 27 power-play goals.

2006-07: Though his totals dropped to 42 goals and 76 points, Kovalchuk got his first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Thrashers won the Southeast Division. He had a goal and an assist in a four-game sweep by the New York Rangers that ended Atlanta's season.

2007-08: The Thrashers missed the playoffs, but Kovalchuk became a 50-goal scorer for the second time, matching his career-high with 52. He played in the NHL All-Star Game before his home fans in Atlanta.

2009-10: Kovalchuk's 43 goals and 91 points couldn't keep the Thrashers from missing the playoffs in 2008-09, and they were on their way to another early spring when the New Jersey Devils acquired him on Feb. 4, 2010. He put up 10 goals and 27 points in 27 games with the Devils and led New Jersey with six points during a five-game loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the opening round of the playoffs.

Summer 2010: Kovalchuk, an unrestricted free agent, remained with the Devils by signing a 15-year, $100 million contract. He initially signed a 17-year, $102 million deal, only to have it rejected by the NHL and the rejection upheld by an arbitrator. The League signed off on a reworked deal that resulted in an annual salary-cap value of $6.67 million.

2011-12: Kovalchuk rebounded from a 31-goal, 60-point non-playoff season in 2010-11 to lead the Devils back to the postseason. He led the team with 37 goals and 86 points during the regular season, then topped the team with eight goals and 19 points as New Jersey advanced to the Stanley Cup Final before losing to the Los Angeles Kings in six games. He was voted a First-Team All-Star for the first time.

2012-13: Kovalchuk played in Russia until the NHL and the Players' Association negotiated a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, then came back to New Jersey. He had 11 goals and 31 points in 37 games, missing 11 games with a shoulder injury. His last goal with New Jersey gave the Devils a 3-2 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 25. Eleven weeks later, on July 11, he announced his retirement from the NHL.

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