Former New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk is set to join the KHL’s Chinese expansion team next season, reports Gabrielle T-F of AFP news agency.
Kovalchuk had a trying year with St Petersburg. After spending four years with the club, the former Maurice Rocket Richard winner was stripped of his captaincy and benched for four straight playoff games. There were rumblings Kovalchuk would be returning to the NHL, possibly with the Devils, but the Russian forward eventually settled his issue with the club and returned to playoff action. In 50 games with St. Petersburg, he scored 16 goals, 33 assists, 49 points in 50 games, and went scoreless in four playoff appearances.
The KHL announced expansion to Beijing this year. The club hasn’t been named, but they’ll begin playing in the 2016-17 season. They’re likely adding Kovalchuk to give them some name recognition for their inaugural campaign.
China has seen growth in multiple sports in recent months. The NFL announced a preseason game will be played there 2018. Teams are continuing to be aggressive acquiring premiere international talent like Kovalchuk, as it seems every week a huge athlete is being offered insane money to play in China, such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s €75m offer to play soccer in the Chinese Super League.
The Beijing hockey club is making a savvy move acquiring Kovalchuk, given his star power. He may not be the player he used to be, but the 32-year-old is still a talented point producer who will help bring crowds in.