From Moscow, Ovechkin Brings Hope to the Caps

Alexander Ovechkin
"I'm ready to play in the NHL." So says Alexander Ovechkin, the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NHL draft, who was introduced to the media by the Capitals on Thursday. (Mitchell Layton - Getty Images)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 2, 2005

Alexander Ovechkin's first day in Washington ended late Wednesday night inside ESPN Zone's arcade.

The Capitals' prized rookie lined up to test his accuracy on an interactive hockey game. Just one problem: All of the sticks were for lefties. Ovechkin shoots from the right.

No matter. Ovechkin whacked the puck into the goal anyway, scoring -- unofficially -- his first goal in Washington.

"It was a pretty goal," Ovechkin joked yesterday at MCI Center, where he was introduced at a news conference.

The Moscow native, who turns 20 this month, was drafted first overall by the Capitals in June 2004, but his arrival was delayed nearly 14 months by a labor dispute that wiped out the 2004-05 season.

"Good city, good country and good people," he said, flashing a broad smile. "I'm looking forward to my career. Right now, we have one goal: to win the Stanley Cup. I will try to play how I can. I will try to play good."

Shortly after getting into town, Ovechkin signed the three-year contract he agreed to Aug. 5. The deal calls for him to earn a base salary of $984,200 per year, with the possibility of making as much as $3.9 million per season by reaching several lofty performance incentives.

Unlike most NHL rookies, Ovechkin, a 6-foot-2, 212-pound left wing, already is accustomed to being a successful and wealthy professional athlete, having skated for one of Europe's top teams, Moscow Dynamo, the past four years. Last season he helped Dynamo capture the title in the Russian Super League, often referred to as the world's second best league behind the NHL.

This season, the big paychecks will keep coming. But the wins are almost certain to be fewer and further between. The Capitals are rebuilding from the ground up after trading away most of their veteran players during the 2003-04 season.

"As a sportsman, of course, I want to win games," Ovechkin said. "But we are a young team."

The Capitals hope Ovechkin's skill on the ice -- and his charisma off it -- will generate excitement among fans, many of whom had soured on the sport and team before the lockout.

Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis said he expects the Capitals' season ticket base to hover around 8,500 this season, down more than 3,300 from the team's peak of about 11,800 during the 2001-02 season, Jaromir Jagr's first with the Capitals. Leonsis also said the team sold about 500 new season ticket plans last month, the best August in the six years he has owned the team.

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