Alexander Ovechkin is the single most exciting player in the National Hockey League.
No one is a greater threat with the puck on his stick. No one brings more outward and genuine passion to the game. And no superstar whose game is all about offensive enjoys the raw art of delivering a clean hard hit like Ovechkin, night-in and night-out.
Ovechkin alone is worth the price of admission. And you’re better off watching him in person than anywhere else, because you’re sure to miss something if you’re not in the building.
It was no fluke last season that Ovechkin walked off with four major pieces of hardware, and he deserved them all, without question. Two of the trophies come attached to leading statistical categories – the Rocket Richard for Ovechkin’s NHL-high 65 goals (13 more than his closest pursuer) and the Art Ross for his pace-setting 112 points. Ovechkin can take special pride in winning the Lester Pearson and Hart Trophies, MVP designations as voted upon by the league’s players for the former and voted upon by members of the Pro Hockey Writers’ Association for the latter.
The first pick in the 2004 draft had to wait a year to display his immense talents as the league lost the 2004-05 season due to a labor dispute, but he has been the poster boy for the new NHL since the league’s return. Ovechkin has scored 163 goals and 310 points in 245 games. Just 23 years old, Ovechkin has people drawing comparisons to the greatest offensive players in the game and wondering how many records he could own by the end of his career.
Maybe the most impressive part of the story is how refreshing Ovechkin is in terms of his comfort with being a superstar, his ease in talking to everyone in English, and the fact he breaks all stereotypes of Russian players, who are usually more reserved and guarded early in their careers.
Ovechkin is the best thing that could have happened to the Washington Capitals, a franchise that was getting lost in the landscape of D.C. pro sports. But as exciting as Ovechkin has been during his short time in the league, the thing that really brought the fans back in the capital city was Washington’s remarkable rally from worst in the league to a division title in the span of several months.
On the hot seat: As crazy as it sounds, Ovechkin is the man who has no choice but to produce MVP-caliber numbers for the Capitals to excel. That’s not to say he’s going to be the subject of trade rumors or looked at in a bad light if he slips to 45-50 goals and 80-90 points. And certainly he’s not expected to do everything on his own, but Washington doesn’t have the depth, high-end defense or dominating goaltender unless proven otherwise. For now, it’s Ovechkin against the world.
Analysis and prediction: You want your dark-horse Stanley Cup champion? I submit the Washington Capitals. It’s no stretch to imagine this team venturing deep into the Eastern Conference playoffs. You may get some resistance in other cities such as Montreal, Ottawa and New York, but is it really that much of a stretch to imagine the Penguins and Capitals having a heated rivalry over the next decade or so?