Kovalchuk, 36, is the fifth Russian on the Capitals, joining Alex Ovechkin, Dmitry Orlov, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov. The 6-foot-3, 222-pound veteran recorded 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 22 games with the Canadiens and another nine points (three goals, six assists) in 17 games with the Los Angeles Kings this season.
Kovalchuk, the No. 1 pick in the 2001 NHL draft, led the league in goals in 2003-04 and is a three-time all-star. He has 872 points in 919 games across 13 NHL seasons. He left the NHL in 2013 and spent five seasons playing professionally in Russia before signing with the Kings in 2018.
Los Angeles released Kovalchuk in December after he cleared unconditional waivers, terminating the remainder of his three-year, $18.75 million contract. Montreal signed him to a one-year, two-way contract in January.
The low-cost, low-risk move ahead of Monday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline was Washington’s second acquisition in the past week after it added defenseman Brenden Dillon from the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday. The Capitals are expected to pay Kovalchuk about $76,000 of his prorated salary, according to multiple reports.
MacLellan told reporters this past week he was open to having conversations with other teams to add more pieces before the deadline.
Kovalchuk, who is a right-handed shot, could be added to the right side of the Capitals’ third line with Lars Eller and Carl Hagelin. Washington also could move Hagelin down to the fourth line and keep Richard Panik on the third. Kovalchuk was averaging 18:54 of ice time in Montreal, up from 15:25 with the Kings this season. Wherever he slots in, Kovalchuk probably will get less playing time with the Capitals.
The Capitals could use more offensive firepower among their bottom-six forwards. Hagelin scored twice Sunday in a 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, but he has only seven goals this season. Panik also has seven. Eller has been the team’s most productive depth forward, with 15 goals and 21 assists.
The last time any member of the Capitals’ fourth line scored was Jan. 5, when Nic Dowd found the net against the San Jose Sharks. Garnet Hathaway tallied his last goal Dec. 23 against Boston, and Brendan Leipsic last scored Nov. 27 against Florida. And while the trio weren’t brought in to have a large offensive contribution, their drop in offensive chances over the past couple of months has been concerning. Leipsic was a healthy scratch for the first time this season Thursday against the Canadiens.
Kovalchuk is expected to be at the team’s morning skate Tuesday ahead of its game that night against the Winnipeg Jets.
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