New Jersey Devils veteran forward Ilya Kovalchuk announced his retirement on Thursday afternoon. Kovalchuk said the decision was something he had been thinking about for a long time. From the team's official press release:
"This decision was something I have thought about for a long time going back to the lockout and spending the year in Russia. Though I decided to return this past season, Lou was aware of my desire to go back home and have my family there with me. The most difficult thing for me is to leave the New Jersey Devils, a great organization that I have a lot of respect for, and our fans that have been great to me."
The team's president, CEO and general manager, Lou Lamoriello wished the 11-year veteran well. From the press release:
"After many conversations with Ilya over the past year on his desire to retire from the National Hockey League, Ilya’s decision became official today. On behalf of the entire organization, I wish Ilya and his family all the best in their future endeavors."
Kovalchuk retires with 417 goals and 399 assists (816 points). He was taken by the Atlanta Thrashers as the first overall pick of the 2001 draft. Kovalchuk was born in Tver, Russia and represented Russia in three Winter Olympics, nine World Championships and the 2004 World Cup.PHOTOS: Biggest retirements of 2013