Best underrated local athlete

Ilya Kovalchuk

Staff Pick

Since being drafted first overall in 2001, hockey player ILYA KOVALCHUK has put together the longest sustained run of excellence  — 38 or more goals every season since 2002, exceeding 50 goals twice — by an Atlanta athlete since Greg Maddux and Dominique Wilkins were in their prime. Overshadowed or forced to share the spotlight at various points in his career with superstars Dany Heatley and Marian Hossa, Kovalchuk put together arguably his most impressive campaign last season when he was the team's sole source of offensive firepower, scoring 43 goals and netting a total of 91 points — the second-highest total of his career. Kovalchuk's sustained level of dominance in his sport place him on a tier far above any other current local athlete, including Braves all-star Brian McCann and Falcons star quarterback Matt Ryan. Keep your fingers crossed, though — 2009 was the last year in his contract and it's unknown if he'll renew with the team.
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