Russian Contact Could Be of Help
Ovechkin Has Physical Makeup Teams Crave
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 28, 2004; Page D04
TAMPA, May 27 -- Alexander Ovechkin scores goals. He's a dogged defender. He chases pucks into the corner, and doesn't shy away from contact when he gets there.
The 18-year-old Moscow Dynamo forward is also supremely confident in his abilities, and says he deserves to be the first player selected in next month's NHL entry draft. Whether the Washington Capitals plan on choosing him with the No. 1 pick, well, that may not be known until June 26, when the two-day draft begins.
Capitals officials aren't saying, at least not publicly.
"Ask some people who think I'm best," Ovechkin said Thursday in Tampa, where the NHL had brought him for a meet-and-greet with media covering the Stanley Cup finals between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Calgary Flames.
Asked what parts of the game he plays well, Ovechkin had a simple answer:
"All. I play a physical game. I can play defense. I can score goal. . . . And, maybe, I'm a nice guy," he said, smiling.
Ovechkin speaks broken English, but it is good enough to get across his point, thanks to a steady diet of American movies on DVDs and a tutor his parents hired a few years ago.
"I know [rookie Alexander] Semin, who plays for [the Capitals]," Ovechkin said. "We played in world [junior] championships together. He's a great guy. I know [Jaromir] Jagr played for this team last year, but was traded to Rangers. Semin said [Washington] is beautiful city, nice team, nice guys. He said it's very exciting."
Scouts and general managers hesitate to say the words can't miss when discussing prospects, because so many of them have. But the consensus heading into the NHL entry draft in Raleigh, N.C., is that Ovechkin is by far the most talented prospect to come along since 1984, when Mario Lemieux was chosen first overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Ovechkin, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound right-handed shooting left wing who can also play the right side, had 10 goals and 13 assists in 53 games with Moscow Dynamo of the Russian Super League last season. He shored up his status as the top prospect while playing for Russia at the world championships in Prague earlier this month. Scouting reports also talk about his defensive play, a facet of the game European scorers sometime ignore.
According to one scouting report, Ovechkin is "a complete package, superb skater, excellent acceleration and top speed. Superb stickhandler, passer and playmaker . . . has an outstanding scoring touch with a great selection of shots. Big, strong and solidly built power forward -- can hit and take a hit when needed. Does not mind playing physical hockey."
He's so good, in fact, the Florida Panthers actually tried to select him last June, a year before he was eligible for the draft. NHL rules stipulate that players turn 18 on or before Sept. 15. Ovechkin was born on Sept. 17, 1985, making him two days too young last year. The Panthers claimed the four leap years that had passed since his birth had made him draftable. The NHL disagreed.
"That was impressive," Ovechkin said of the Panthers' interest.
Ovechkin could prove to be Washington's savior. The Capitals are much in need of some positive public relations after trading away most of their stars last season. Yet, General Manager George McPhee has not publicly said that he plans to take Ovechkin, leaving open the possibility he may consider a trade on draft day.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company