Drafted by Atlanta first overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Ilya Kovalchuk was the first Russian to be drafted first overall in NHL history, which is a considerable feat considering how many talented Russians have played in the league.
Kovalchuk finished second to Atlanta teammate Dany Heatley in the voting for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2002. Both were named to the NHL All-Rookie Team in which Kovalchuk scored a record 7 goals. In the 2003-04 NHL Season Kovalchuk scored 41 goals, making him a co-winner of the Maurice 'Rocket' Richard Trophy after tying for the league lead in goals along with Jarome Iginla and Rick Nash.
After the lockout, Kovalchuk scored 52 goals in 2005-06, which tied him with Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals for third in the league in goal-scoring. He also tied his career-high of 46 assists for a career-high 98 points, finishing 8th overall in scoring and leading the Atlanta Thrashers in scoring for the second consecutive season. He also became the first Thrashers player to score 50 goals in a season. In the 2006-07 NHL season, Kovalchuk's point production dropped for the first time in his career. He finished with 42 goals and 34 assists for 76 points. Kovalchuk and the Atlanta Thrashers qualified for the playoffs for the first time. They would lose to the New York Rangers in four games, but Kovalchuk would score one goal and one assist in the series.
In 2006 Kovalchuk played in the Torino Winter Olympics as a member of the Russian men's hockey team and had a four-goal game on February 19 in a 9-2 win over Latvia, but returned to Atlanta without a medal.
Kovalchuk is one of the league's most exciting players. With a true offensive nose for the net, he knows how to score from just about anywhere and boasts an explosive shot alongside his speed and keen hockey sense. Kovalchuk will certainly have one heck of a career.