Ranking 5 potential suitors for Kovalchuk if he returns to NHL

Ilya Kovalchuk arguably has the most to prove during the PyeongChang 2018 men's hockey tournament, leading the favored Olympic Athletes from Russia into combat.

It's been widely reported Kovalchuk, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, is entertaining a return to the NHL, and the 34-year-old would be an asset to numerous teams after featuring as a prolific goal-scorer in the KHL.

Kovalchuk, possessing one of the game's most lethal releases, would provide an instant burst of offense. Below, we rank five teams from least suitable to most suitable that ought to consider making an offer to the decorated winger.

5. New Jersey Devils

Few would fault the Devils organization if they wanted nothing to do with Kovalchuk after he bailed for the KHL after the 2012-13 season. This is a different team than the one from which he fled, however, and it would be a mutually beneficial partnership.

New Jersey is currently positioned to make the playoffs, trying to fend off several clubs for a wild-card spot, and could use an offensive boost in attempting to cement its bid; Kovalchuk would help round out a young, top-heavy group largely relying upon Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier to engineer the attack. The Devils have 17 players signed through 2018-19 and could afford to meet Kovalchuk's demands - provided they aren't exorbitant, like his last NHL stint.

Kovalchuk would also serve as an unlikely mentor to Hischier, both of whom were selected first overall, 16 years apart. Second chances aren't always ideal, but this may be worth exploring.

4. San Jose Sharks

Kovalchuk would fit in seamlessly with a veteran Sharks team still looking for a first Stanley Cup in franchise history. It would be an easy transition for a man who ought to be familiar with large portions of the roster while serving as another potent offensive option.

San Jose currently ranks third on the power play and while there is an argument to be made that it doesn't need fixing, imagining Kovalchuk on a unit with Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Brent Burns may be too tempting to resist.

It appears Kovalchuk's goals align perfectly with the Sharks', and it's an option that ought to be appealing to both parties.

3. Vegas Golden Knights

No one expected the Golden Knights to be this good this soon, but if the expected regression to the mean never occurs, they could be an ideal destination for Kovalchuk. Unlike the other four suitors listed, Vegas faces minimal cap restraints and would likely be able to offer the most lucrative contract this summer.

Jonathan Marchessault, David Perron, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith have been among the season's most surprising revelations, creating a formidable attack along with veteran James Neal, whom many expected to be the team's top scorer. While it may be unwise to count out the Golden Knights as they are now, Kovalchuk adds further credibility to an offensive unit that has completely bamboozled the rest of the league.

With the prospect of being able to offer a lucrative contract combined with the city's famed nightlife, the Golden Knights could have an unlikely allure.

2. Los Angeles Kings

A veteran team with Stanley Cup experience playing in a city with world-renowned entertainment options in picturesque California is an alluring pitch with which to begin. Add in that the Kings are starved for another offensive weapon, and Kovalchuk may be donning the silver, black, and white in 2018-19.

The Kings rank 19th on the power play and Kovalchuk's deadly release would serve as a major asset for a team that has earned a reputation for a conservative style of play. With the exception of Anze Kopitar, L.A. doesn't have a single forward with more than 40 points this season and Kovalchuk would inject new life into the group.

Kovalchuk's ambition to win a Stanley Cup is likely fueling his desire to return North America and few teams provide him with a better fit, both as an individual and from a team perspective. Rob Blake has work to do.

1. Winnipeg Jets

It would be poetic for Kovalchuk to return to the organization with which he started his career just as they are turning into a potential contender for years to come, and his experience and goal-scoring ability would surely be coveted.

Imagine trying to stop a power play with Kovalchuk and Patrik Laine firing off the wing? It would be an absolute nightmare for 30 other teams to figure out. Kovalchuk would effectively replace Mathieu Perreault on the top line and a link-up with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler sounds like a nightmare, to say nothing of the added balance the ripple effect would create for the club.

Signing Kovalchuk is a feasible, sensible decision for the Jets to make, and Kevin Cheveldayoff and his staff ought to be watching PyeongChang 2018 closely.

Ranking 5 potential suitors for Kovalchuk if he returns to NHL
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