Kovalchuk signs contract with Thrashers

By Jake Dole
The Atlanta Thrashers beat the midnight deadline on Wednesday to sign the first overall selection in the 2001 draft Ilya Kovalchuk. The deal is reportedly worth $3.4 million for 3 years, the maximum allowed for rookies by the NHL.

Kovalchuk, who dominated in the High League last year, amassed 42 goals in 51 games. Along with an excellent U-18 performance, Ilya virtually guaranteed himself the first-overall position months before the draft.

If Kovalchuk had not been signed, he would have returned to play in Russia, playing for Spartak of the Superleague. Now that he is signed, expect Ilya to make the Thrashers’ roster. However, making the team will not be a walk in the park. Kovalchuk is expected to battle Lubos Bartecko and Patrik Stefan for a left-wing spot on the top 2 lines. Hnat Domenichelli and Ladislav Kohn are the other two left wings battling for a roster spot with Atlanta.

If Ilya fails to make the Atlanta roster, he will play another year in Russia, competing a level higher, versus older and more physical competition.

During last year, Ilya earned a reputation for being an intimidating, physical competitor, with a bruising two-way style. Despite certain questions arising about his maturity, Thrashers GM Don Waddell has remained positive about Kovalchuk’s attitude. He stated that Ilya had exceptional work ethic and that his desire to succeed was strictly a positive for his development. Keeping in mind the Thrashers’ second half struggles last year, it might be a good idea to add a good dosage of intensity to the roster. Kovalchuk might be the perfect addition.

It is, also, vital to point out that the incentives of the contract were not disclosed. It is presumed that if Kovalchuk thrives in the pros this year, he might collect a heavy paycheck by the end of the year.

Along with Kovalchuk, Jason Spezza, Stephen Weiss and Alexander Svitov are the other 2001 draft first-rounders who could see playing time next season with their respective teams.

To poolies: With Atlanta’s questionable player depth, Kovalchuk could see a reasonable amount of playing time, whether even strength, shorthanded or powerplay. With his determination, Kovalchuk seems like a virtual lock to make the team. He could equal or beat Marian Gaborik’s 2000 stats.


In other news, the Florida Panthers resigned Marcus Nilson to a three-year contract; financial terms were not disclosed.

Nilson, came off a solid year, as he collected 12 goals and 36 points in 78 games. After struggling to score in the AHL the previous year(Marcus had 9 goals in 64 games with Louisville), he found a niche with the top club, playing on the top line with Viktor Kozlov and Pavel Bure.