Russian forward Ilya Kovalchuk made worldwide headlines last summer when he 'retired' from the NHL at age 30, leaving $77 million on a 12-year contract with the New Jersey Devils on the table. Kovalchuk's saga continued when he signed a contract of similar financial value with the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League's SKA Saint Petersburg, who he currently stars for. Before his exodus to his native country, he was one of the NHL's highest-scoring players. In fact, he was the NHL's aggragate leading scorer for the first decade of the 21st century, whe he played for the since-relocated Atlanta Thrashers.
- Represented Russia in the 2010, 2006 and 2002 Olympics, winning a bronze medal in 2002.
- Tied for the NHL's lead in goals during the 2003-04 season.
- Was an NHL All-Star in 2004, 2008 and 2009.
- Won a gold medal at the World Championships in 2008 and 2009.
- Also represented Russia at the World Championships in 2005, 2007 and 2010.
- Played for Russia at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
- Taken by the Atlanta Thrashers with the NHL's first overall draft pick in 2001.
Things to know:
1. When he arrived in the U.S. from Russia as an NHL rookie in 2001, he immediately had to have nine teeth pulled by his dentist. Talking about his mother, Kovalchuk's explanation was: 'She used to hide candy in the house, but I knew where to look for it.'
2. His wife, Nicole, was once part of a well known Russian music group called "Mirage".
3. His hometown, Tver, Russia, was known as "Kalinin" from 1933-1990.