By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Boston Bruins could be in the market for a veteran winger when free agency kicks off on July 1. And apparently, you can add the returning Ilya Kovalchuk to that list.
As TSN's Darren Dreger said in a new interview with 690 Radio in Montreal, he has the Bruins on a short list of nine teams that have varying levels of interest or potential in signing Kovalchuk. He has the B's in the "solid contender" department, along with the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, and "maybe" the New York Rangers. The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun agrees with that exact list, terming the B's and those other teams as "top contenders".
The Kings and Sharks have already met with Kovalchuk, according to LeBrun. So they can reasonably be considered the leaders in the clubhouse. But to put the Bruins in the same category as them is intriguing, to say the least.
Between their reported interest in Kovalchuk and that they will explore the possibility of re-signing Rick Nash, it's becoming clearer that the B's are looking to enter the 2018-19 season with a veteran scoring winger on the roster. As every GM in the league is likely doing, GM Don Sweeney is already making calls.
Kovalchuk, 35, hasn't played in the NHL since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, when he scored 11 goals and 20 assists in 37 games with the New Jersey Devils. He's been an elite player in the KHL in Russia since then, scoring 138 goals and 327 points in 298 games. He's fresh off a scoring title in the KHL in 2017-18, leading the league with 63 points in 62 games.
The Bruins appear to be targeting a winger who could flank David Krejci on the right side, which Nash did whenever healthy in 2017-18. Like Nash, Kovalchuk is a big winger with a booming shot, and also developed something of a two-way game in the years leading up to his departure for the KHL. He's also a right shot, which could make him more attractive than the left-shooting Nash. Once upon a time, the former No. 1 overall pick was one of the NHL's premier snipers, with 417 goals and 816 points in 816 career games.
Both Kovalchuk and Nash are on the wrong side of 30, with Kovalchuk just over a year older. Nash turns 34 years old on Saturday.
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If the B's don't end up moving David Pastrnak down to the second line with Krejci, Kovalchuk would represent a veteran option. The question would be how much he has left in the tank at 35. Leading the KHL in scoring is vastly different from doing the same in the NHL, which has become more of a young man's league in recent years.
But Sweeney is ostensibly aiming to maintain that veteran presence on the wings, which would complement the wealth of youth in the organization and coming through the pipeline, especially on the left side. At right wing, there are no immediate options beyond moving one of their young left-shot players to their off wing.
The ultimate hurdle to signing Kovalchuk, it seems, is convincing him to sign in Boston over one of the California teams. Perhaps the promise of better Stanley Cup contention could entice him, but it's unclear how much closer (if at all) to a Cup the Bruins are than the Sharks or Kings. Still, in the idea of playing with a gifted playmaker like Krejci, the B's do have a selling point.
Correction: Rick Nash was erroneously mentioned as a right-shooting winger. He's actually a left shot. Additionally, Kovalchuk's career NHL stats were updated for accuracy.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].
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