The Florida Panthers signed winger Alex Kovalev to a one-year contract on Friday, returning the former Montreal Canadiens star to the NHL after a year in the KHL. The Panthers open the season Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes and Kovalev ahould be available.
The Panthers, who won the Southeast Division last season, will hope Kovalev still has some offensive skill left in him. He was in training camp on a tryout and could be a great mentor to youngster Jonathan Huberdeau this season.
Kovalev last played in the NHL during the 2010-11 season, starting with the Ottawa Senators before moving to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the trade deadline. He got off to a solid start in Ottawa, but managed just seven points in 20 games for the Penguins. Last season saw him suit up in 22 games for Moscow Oblast Atlant of the KHL, where he managed just six points.
He scored 65 points or more per season for the Penguins, New York Rangers and Canadiens from the 1999-00 season through the 2008-09 season. In an NHL career spanning more than 1,300 games, he has scored 428 goals and notched 1,024 points. He was a member of the Rangers’ 1994 Stanley Cup championship team and is a three-time NHL All-Star.
Kovalev joins a lineup of forwards that includes Kris Versteeg, Scottie Upshall, Tomas Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss on a team that seemed to figure out a great balance between young and veteran players last season. If he’s good for 20-30 points in the shortened season, this was a great depth signing for the team.