Ilya Kovalchuk never played Canadian junior hockey, jumping straight from the Russian League to the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers. But if he had come to North America prior to turning pro, he would have played with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the QMJHL. They drafted the superstar winger 10th overall in the 2000 CHL Import Draft.
Kovalchuk went on to a pretty great career. But it all started with him not going to Cape Breton, and on Tuesday, April 1, the Screaming Eagles decided the time had come to honor one of the greatest players to almost play for them. From their Facebook page:
The Cape Breton Screaming Eagles announced today that they will retire Ilya Kovalchuk's jersey during the 2014-15 season. Kovalchuk was drafted by the Screaming Eagles 10th overall in the 2000 CHL Import Draft. Although he never played for the Screaming Eagles, his name stands out among hockey’s greatest and the Screaming Eagles organization is pleased to celebrate his career by retiring his #71 jersey – the number that he probably would have worn if he had played for the Screaming Eagles.
I like the idea of retiring the number he "probably would have worn". Kovalchuk didn't wear it, so no other prospect can wear it either. Makes sense.
Needless to say, some fans were pretty upset by this curious announcement:
And then they were upset with themselves.
So rest easy, Ondrej Pavelec. You don't have to sit and stew while a guy that didn't even report to Cape Breton after the import draft gets his number retired ahead of you.