SUNRISE, Fla. -- The beginning of the NHL season is significant to every player, but for different reasons.
For Alex Kovalev, the Florida Panthers opener against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night represents the chance to be back in the NHL after being away in 2011-12.
The 39-year-old, who played 22 games in the Kontinental Hockey League last season, earned a contract with the Panthers this week after being invited to camp on a tryout basis.
"I'm just happy overall to be back on the ice, back in the big league and have a chance to play in the NHL again," Kovalev said.
The speedy Russian is slated to play on a line with free-agent acquisition Peter Mueller and rookie Jonathan Huberdeau, the No. 3 pick in the 2011 NHL Draft.
The line will be counted to provide secondary scoring behind the top trio of Stephen Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg.
Kovalev was one of two veterans invited to the Panthers camp along with Marek Svatos, who was released Thursday.
For his part, Kovalev said he felt confident from the start he would earn a contract with the Panthers.
"Health-wise, I feel great and on the ice I feel comfortable," Kovalev said. "I didn't really have doubts that I was going to make it. There could be different circumstances, but I was pretty confident."