Forward says he expects L.A. to be contender after his return from KHL

September 10th, 2018

Ilya Kovalchuk skated with the Los Angeles Kings for the first time Monday.

The 35-year-old forward, who signed a three-year, $18.75 million contract with the Kings on July 1 after playing five seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League, said he expects Los Angeles to be one of the top teams in the NHL.

"We have a great core here, the guys know how to win," Kovalchuk told LA Kings Insider after informal drills. "Great goaltending, so I think we're one of the teams, one of the contenders, for sure."

The Kings have not advanced in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since they won the Cup in 2014, their second title in three seasons. Defenseman Drew Doughty, forwards Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter, and goalie Jonathan Quick are among the players remaining from those championship teams.

Last season, Los Angeles was 16th in the NHL in scoring (2.89 goals per game) and scored three goals in four games when it was swept by the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference First Round.

Kovalchuk, who scored 31 goals in 53 games for SKA St. Petersburg in 2017-18, is being counted on to boost the Kings offensively. He said he expects to be ready after training this offseason with Dallas Stars forward Alexander Radulov, who had 54 points (18 goals, 36 assists) for the Montreal Canadiens in 2016-17 in his return to the NHL after four seasons in the KHL, and Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin.

"I did similar [things] to what I usually do," Kovalchuk said. "A lot of running, a lot of lifting, a lot of strength work. I started skating a little bit earlier because they say the NHL is getting faster. Usually I didn't skate before I got to the camp, but now I did a few times a week for the last few weeks."

Kovalchuk said Radulov told him he would be OK in his return to the NHL.

Kovalchuk has 816 points (417 goals, 399 assists) in 816 NHL games. He scored 52 goals twice with the Atlanta Thrashers (2005-06, 2007-08) and had at least 41 goals six times in 11 NHL seasons with Atlanta and the New Jersey Devils. He had 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists) in 37 NHL games in 2012-13, his last season with the Devils before returning to his native Russia.

"I wish I can predict the future, but I am not the magic man," Kovalchuk said when asked how many goals he thinks he will score this season. "Like I said, I was training hard all summer to get myself in the best shape I can, and to play with those guys, it's much easier. I've never played with a guy like Kopitar, so we'll see. I'm very excited.

"We'll see on Oct. 5, but if you play with guys like Kopitar, Doughty, [Carter] and Brown, they will make it easier for you, so I just need to do my thing, and I think I'll be OK."

The Kings open training camp Thursday.