Canadiens sign Ilya Kovalchuk for rest of season

Ilya Kovalchuk will play for the Montreal Canadiens for the rest of the season after the 36-year-old Russian winger signed a two-way contract Friday for the league minimum, which will pay him $700,000 in the NHL and $70,000 in the AHL.

Kovalchuk returned to the NHL last season after a five-year stint in the KHL. The former 50-goal scorer and three-time All Star for the Atlanta Thrashers and New Jersey Devils was chased by several teams, but he ultimately signed a three-year, $18.25 million deal with the Los Angeles Kings in summer 2018.

His stint in Los Angeles -- spanning just 81 games -- was a disaster.

Kovalchuk had just 16 goals and 18 assists in 64 games last season, and he struggled to find a top role -- especially when the team made a coaching change from John Stevens to Willie Desjardins. The Kings, a bottom feeder in the Pacific Division who are now entering a rebuild, hired Todd McLellan this offseason, and Kovalchuk still didn't fare much better with just three goals and six assists in 17 games before the Kings made him a healthy scratch for nearly six weeks, efforting to trade him.

Los Angeles placed Kovalchuk on waivers in December, shortly after paying him a $2.65 million bonus. When no team claimed him, Kovalchuk became a free agent. He said he still had a desire to play in North America, and wanted to sign with a contender for the rest of the season.

The Canadiens, who play in the top-heavy Atlantic Division, are seven points out of the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot, and six points out of the Atlantic Division's third playoff spot. They are dealing with a rash of injuries, and just this week announced that winger Brendan Gallagher, who is second on the team with 15 goals, was out indefinitely with a concussion.

Kovalchuk will continue to count against the Kings' salary cap with a hit of $6.25 million through next season.

He was the No. 1 pick of the 2001 draft by the Thrashers and has played in 897 career NHL games, scoring 436 goals and 859 points.

He signed a record 15-year, $100 million deal with New Jersey in 2010, but left just three years in to return to Russia.