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Should Stars Consider Ilya Kovalchuk?

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Former All-Star could add depth, scoring to lineup if he returns to NHL

New Jersey Devils v Anaheim Ducks
Would the former All-Star be a good fit in Dallas next season if he returns to the NHL?
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Former NHL All-Star Ilya Kovalchuk announced last week his intention to return to the NHL after spending the past four seasons in the KHL.

Kovalchuk, 34, was, and still is, a dynamic offensive forward.

During his initial 13-year run in the NHL, he scored 417 goals and 816 points in 816 total games with the Atlanta Thrashers and New Jersey Devils. His best season came in 2005-06 with Atlanta when he scored 52 goals.

Kovalchuck, though, hasn’t lost his scoring touch. In the past four years in the KHL he has scored 107 goals in 245 games, including 17 goals in 54 playoff games.

His rights still belong to the New Jersey Devils, who signed him to an absurd 17-year, $102 million deal back in 2010. Any return to the NHL will have to go through New Jersey as a sign-and-trade scenario.

With that being said, would he fit in with the Dallas Stars?

If it’s one thing this year’s playoffs have displayed is that, above everything, teams with depth are winning. Nashville, Ottawa and Edmonton have three full lines that can produce offensively.

No longer is it a top-six forward mentality. It is now a top-nine forward game.

Due to injuries and inconsistent play, Dallas lacked scoring from anyone not named Jamie Benn or Tyler Seguin last season. Both scored 26 goals, with Seguin’s 72 points leading the team.

The next leading scorer was Brett Ritchie, who scored 16. Names once synonymous with offense (Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp) combined to score just 23 goals as injuries and poor play affected both.

Kovalchuck may not produce the 40- or 50-goal seasons like he produced in Atlanta, but a reliable 15-goal winger on the third line would be helpful.

Dallas made a splash on Thursday when it was announced they had signed former Vezina Trophy runner-up Ben Bishop after acquiring his rights from the Los Angeles Kings earlier in the week.

Dallas has plenty of cap space, but that money needs to be spent on additions that will help the Stars climb out of the basement of the Western Conference.

While it may be two years away, Seguin’s contract expires after the 2018-19 season. General Manager Jim Nill must do all he can to put a winning team on the ice to help persuade and entice Seguin to stay in Dallas.

The (re) hiring of Ken Hitchcock complicates areas, too. Unlike Lindy Ruff, who preached tempo and speed, Hitchcock wants to play disciplined hockey, with an emphasis on defense and possession.

Kovalchuk has never been known for his defensive prowess. But could age and experience lead to a new mindset for the Russian winger?

Russian. That’s another aspect we are forgetting.

Dallas has two young and talented Russian forwards, one of which is in Russia: Denis Gurianov and Valeri Nichushkin.

Gurianov totaled 27 points in 57 games last season with the AHL’s Texas Stars. Nichushkin scored 14 goals in his rookie campaign in 2013-14. Hip surgery sidelined him for the next season. Nichushkin returned for 2015-16 season, but scored just nine goals in 79 games. He played year for CSKA Moscow of the KHL, where he scored 11 goals in 36 games.

Many believe Gurianov is either ready or on the cusp of being NHL ready. There was never any doubt of Nichushkin’s talents, but instead his mental makeup and if he wanted to be in Dallas.

Could the addition of a veteran Russian forward, such as Kovalchuk, persuade Nichushkin to come back to Dallas? Could it ease the transition for the young Gurianov once his number is called?

The talent possessed by Kovalchuk should not be doubted. He is, and was, a supreme scorer at the highest level. Is he the player he once was? Of course not.

But could he add depth, scoring and veteran leadership to what could be a young crop of forwards next year? Definitely.