The Boston Bruins’ interest in Ilya Kovalchuk is very real.

And, according to general manager Don Sweeney, the feeling might be mutual.

The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported Tuesday that Boston is a “top contender” for Kovalchuk, who wants to return to the NHL after spending the last five seasons in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. Sweeney since has confirmed the Bruins’ pursuit of the Russian winger, and also has shed some light on his initial interaction with the 35-year-old.

“I’ve been in contact with his group,” Sweeney told The Boston Globe’s Matt Porter. “For obvious reasons — about 230 pounds and still scores goals. He is 35, so you have to factor that in, but he brings a lot to the table.

” … I hope he looks at (the Bruins) and says, ‘That’s a team I’d be interested in.’ He indicated that, but you know, until I get a chance to sit with him, I won’t know that exactly.”

In the event Boston signs Kovalchuk, it likely would coincide with the Bruins moving on from 33-year-old winger Rick Nash, who the team acquired via trade last season and is an unrestricted free agent. Sweeney already has eliminated the possibility of both players wearing black and gold next season.

“It would have to be an either/or,” Sweeney told Porter. “It can’t be both.”

So, what would the Bruins gain in Kovalchuk, who likely would play right wing on the second line?

Over the course of 12 NHL campaigns with the Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets) and the New Jersey Devils, Kovalchuk had 10 seasons in which he scored at least 30 goals, including six 40-goal seasons and one 50-goal season. Overall, he scored 417 goals and racked up 399 assists before bolting for the KHL in 2013.

In five seasons with the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg, Kovalchuk amassed 138 goals and 189 assists for 327 points in 299 games.

Thumbnail photo via David E. Klutho/USA TODAY Sports Images

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