Kovalchuk, who signed a deal with SKA St. Petersberg of the Kontinental Hockey League, has been playing at a new level while the NHL handles it's labor dispute. Since leaving the Devils for his home country, Kovalchuk has recorded nine goals and 14 assists in just 14 games, and his squad currently leads the KHL in goals scored with 77.
To be fair, the KHL's ice dimensions gives it's players more room to skate and a bigger crease for goaltenders, so scoring abilities are much different then we see in the NHL. However, that shouldn't take away from how impressive Kovalchuk has been playing.
According to KHL.ru, Kovalchuk has successful scored on 20.5 percent of his shots, which currently ranks him 10th in the league with a minimum of 10 games played. Comparing that to last year's NHL statistics, only two players in the entire league had a better rate with at least 60 games played, and goals leader Steven Stamkos only had a success rate of 19.8 percent.
Kovalchuk has also recorded an impressive +13 rating thus far, which ranks him second in the KHL behind Petri Kontiola. The 29-year-old forward has only recorded a + rating once in his ten year career, and was criticized during the 2010-2011 for his lack of defensive presence under John MacLean.
Kovalchuk is also at the top of the league amongst locked-out players in points, as he trails only NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin by one point with two less games played. Players like Alexander Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk have failed to record more then 17 points in either the same amount or more games.
Overall, Kovalchuk is on pace to record 85 points in 52 games (KHL only plays 52 games compared to the NHL's 82) with 33 goals scored. If Kovalchuk stays in Russia for a full season, which is likely if NHL negotiations continue to stall, he is on pace to break Alexander Radulov's record for points (80) and come close to the KHL record for goals (35).
Most importantly, Kovalchuk seems to have completey healed from the back injury he dealt with throughout the 2012 NHL playoffs. New Jersey's star forward took a number of beatings and was clearly not the same player toward the end of the year, but he has seemed to recover and is skating effortlessly in his time with the KHL.
It's safe to say Ilya Kovalchuk is back and ready to go in the NHL once a deal is made. The level of play he is currently performing at will automatically put him at the top of the league in scoring for the 2012-2013 season, and New Jersey should have no problem getting points out of their best offensive weapon.