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.

Despite that possibility, there is little doubt around the league the Capitals will end up taking him.

"I've seen Ovechkin play, and he is absolutely a world-class player," said a player agent who asked that his name not be used because it could affect his ability to work with the Capitals and other clubs. "I don't want to say it would be a mistake on the Capitals' part if they don't take him, but I would be surprised if they didn't."

McPhee declined to comment. Ovechkin's agent, Don Meehan did not immediately return a phone call.

Ovechkin's athletic skills were passed down from his parents. His mother, Tatiana, won Olympic gold medals with the Soviet Union's women's basketball team in 1976 in Montreal and 1980 in Moscow, and his father, Mikhail, is a former professional soccer player with Moscow Dynamo. Ovechkin has always worn the number his mother wore -- No. 8 -- as a tribute to her.

"My mom always tell me you must be first, you must be first," Ovechkin said. "My father comes to all of my tournaments. If I play in Canada, he comes to Canada."

Ovechkin has also suffered tragedy. His older brother, Sergei, who was responsible for sparking Alexander's interest in hockey, died in a car accident a few years ago.

"I think about him everyday," Ovechkin said before choking up and lowering his head.

There are potential hang-ups that may complicate Ovechkin's arrival in Washington. The NHL's collective bargaining agreement with the players' union expires Sept. 15, and the sides remain far apart on the issue of player salaries, putting the game's immediate and long-term future in limbo.

Further complicating matters is the recent expiration of the player transfer contract between the NHL and International Ice Hockey Federation, which governs player transfer fees that NHL teams pay to European clubs when they sign a player. Russian hockey officials want no part of a new deal -- they instead want to negotiate independently with NHL teams, a move that could prove costly for the Capitals.

Ovechkin said if there is an owners' lockout next season he will return to Moscow Dynamo.

The Capitals are in position to make Alexander Ovechkin face of the team. "I play a physical game. I can play defense. I can score goal. . . . And, maybe, I'm a nice guy."