Born April 15, 1983 (age 28) in Tver, USSR (now Russia)
Left winger and alternate captain for the New Jersey Devils
Sometimes I don’t know who to spotlight as Man of the Day and I solicit Krista’s aid. She always gives me interesting choices. Kovalchuk was especially intriguing to me considering his history–we’ll get to it in a minute. Kovalchuk started out playing for the Russian team HC Spartak Moscow for two years before he entered the NHL. He made history when he became the first Russian-born player to be drafted first overall as Atlanta took him in the 2001 draft. He had his rookie season in 2001-02 and did well enough to earn the second most nominees for the Calder that year, finishing only behind teammate Dany Heatley. By his third season, he shared the Rocket Richard trophy with Jarome Iginla and Rick Nash, all three of them having scored 41 goals. He went to his first All-Star Game in 2004 as well. During the Year That Never Was, Kovalchuk went back to Russia and spent time with both Ak Bars Kazan and Khimik Moscow Oblast. Once all that was sorted out, he returned to Atlanta and scored 52 goals. This tied him with then-rookie Alexander Ovechkin for third in the league, scoring-wise, and made him the first Thrasher in team history to score more than 50 goals.
Though Kovalchuk’s production decreased a bit the next season, it was still notable for Atlanta in that it was also the only year in which they qualified for the playoffs. (They were swept by the Rangers.) In 2007-08, Kovalchuk got two consecutive hat tricks in a loss against Ottawa and a win against Tampa Bay, respectively, helping him get another 52-goal season. For the first part of 2008-09, there was no Thrashers captain after Bobby Holik went to New Jersey (foreshadowing?), so Kovalchuk served as one of the five alternate captains until the alternates requested that he just take on the C. He did in January 2009. He netted his 300th and 301st career goals in October 2009 as the captain. However, when he reached the end of his contract, he and Atlanta couldn’t agree on an extension and so he was traded to New Jersey in February 2010 in exchange for Johnny Oduya, Patrice Cormier, Niclas Bergfors and selections in the 2010 draft. He did enter unrestricted free agency at the end of 2009-10 and briefly had the press playing a guessing game as to where he would go before deciding to stay a Devil for 15 years at a going rate of $100 million. However, the Devils were penalized for this, giving up a $3 million fine, a 3rd round draft pick in 2011 and another future draft pick.
With New Jersey last season, Kovalchuk played 81 games, scoring 31 goals and 29 assists and spending 68 minutes in the sin bin. He’s also represented Russia at many different levels: the U18s (gold in 2001, silver in 2002), Worlds (didn’t medal in 2003, bronze in 2005 and 2007, gold in 2008 and 2009, silver in 2010) and the Olympics (bronze in 2002, didn’t medal in 2006 or 2010). He serves as one of the ambassadors for the 2014 Olympics to be held in Sochi.