If 17 years seems like an odd number, consider that Kovalchuk wears No. 17 in honor of legendary Russian left winger Valeri Kharlamov. He never met Kharlamov, who died in a 1981 car crash at age 33.
"He was my dad's favorite," Kovalchuk told me. "I never saw him play live, but I have a lot of videotapes at home. My dad and I would watch tapes of his games for hours..."
Valeri Kovalchuk, Ilya's dad, died in July of 2005 at the age of 54.