After garnering interest from several clubs around the league, Jan Kovar has decided on where he’ll start his NHL career. The New York Islanders today announced a one-year contract with the European free agent, ending a five-year stint in the KHL with Magnitogorsk. Chris Johnston of Sportsnet reports that the deal is worth $2MM, as Kovar is old enough to not be held to the entry-level system.
Kovar, 28, may look like a no-brainer when it comes to bringing offense to the Islanders in the wake of John Tavares signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Czech forward has 286 points in 285 career KHL games, and was one of the better scoring threats in his home country’s leagues before that. Some though question those KHL numbers due to the fact that he played with two of the league’s best players in Danis Zaripov and Sergei Mozyakin for almost every shift. Last season, when Zaripov left the team Kovar’s numbers dropped significantly to just seven goals and 35 points in 54 games. That was despite still getting more than 20 minutes a night, something Kovar has enjoyed since entering the KHL in 2013.
Nevertheless the Islanders will try to squeeze some of that production out of Kovar this season and see if he can find his offensive touch with some of the other talented players on the roster. The center position battle will be one to watch, as Kovar, Casey Cizikas and Valtteri Filppula are all natural centers that will need minutes, while Mathew Barzal is expected to replace Tavares as the top line pivot going forward. Brock Nelson is the likely front runner to take the second-line job, but Kovar’s acquisition does complicate that somewhat.
Nelson filed for arbitration earlier this month and still hasn’t been able to post positive faceoff numbers in his career. Add that to poor possession statistics and a step backwards offensively, and he may get moved down the lineup by new head coach Barry Trotz. One thing is for sure, the front office is trying to give Trotz as much center depth as possible, something he enjoyed during his time in Washington.