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Justin Kovacs returns to the Quad-City Mallards this year after leading the team with 40 assists and 60 points last year.

Justin Kovacs wants at least one more year to show North America what he's got.

The Quad-City Mallards announced the re-signing of Kovacs Thursday, bringing back the player who led the team with 40 assists and tied for the team lead with 60 points last season.

"I'm pretty excited," Kovacs said. "It was a good year last year, we came up a little short in the playoffs but it's a good spot to be and I'm excited to be back with some of the guys from last year."

Kovacs had his ECHL rights protected by the Mallards but could have played overseas. With the Mallards entering a new affiliation agreement with the NHL expansion Vegas Golden Knights and AHL's Chicago Wolves, Kovacs decided to stay with the Mallards for another year.

"It's a good spot, I got a lot of opportunities," he said. "I'm not sure how long I want to stay in the states for hockey but that was the decision. I was thinking about going overseas this year but I figured I'd give it one more shot with the new affiliation and everything, maybe get a chance to get called up and play at a higher level."

Kovacs, 25, is entering his second third pro season. He played 71 total games as a rookie with the Kalamazoo Wings, scoring seven goals and adding 27 assists, but flourished last season with the Mallards, scoring 20 goals to go along with his assists, helping the team to its first 40-win season since 2006.

"His first year pro wasn't the best, not sure if he was really given the opportunity," head coach Phil Axtell said. "But last year he made the most of it and I think he can improve and maybe get his feet wet in the American League, hopefully and possibly the next year be able to stick."

The Mallards now return three of their top four scorers from last year as well as all-star goaltender C.J. Motte. That core will be looked to after the Mallards fell in five games to the Fort Wayne Komets in the first round of the playoffs.

"Hopefully they can match that and trump it," Axtell said. "The fact that there's that many guys ... the guys that produced a lot last year, knowing the expectations and knowing the level, having them back is huge."


Sports reporter for the Quad-City Times