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.
Some of that increased business can be attributed to Ovechkin, who will wear jersey No. 8, with defenseman Steve Eminger switching to No. 44.
"He's a key building block to us having a great team," Leonsis said.
Not too long ago, however, neither Leonsis or General Manager George McPhee were sure when the team could begin building around Ovechkin.
Ovechkin had to exercise an "out" clause in his Russian contract by July 20. The NHL and its players' association didn't announce its labor deal to end the lockout until two days later.
"There was never any doubt that he wanted to play here," McPhee said. "He had to make a difficult decision to opt out of his contract on July 20, when the collective bargaining agreement wasn't ratified.
"He left the security of playing in his homeland, the security of a very substantial contract he had over there for some unknowns. That showed tremendous nerve. We're thrilled that he's here now."
Ovechkin's tour of the area continued last night at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, where he watched the Ravens host the Washington Redskins in an NFL preseason game alongside Leonsis and McPhee in the owner's suite.
The next few weeks won't be all fun and games for Ovechkin, whose English is improving. With training camp set to begin Sept. 12, he must find a place to live, a way to get around and take care of all the other details that come with moving to a foreign country.
Ovechkin's mother, father and older brother, Mikael, will join him here next week.
"My brother is my best friend; he's going to be here," Ovechkin said. "I can talk to him about everything. As long as he is here, I am okay."
Capitals Notes: McPhee said he has received assurances from Alexander Semin's representatives that the 21-year-old left wing plans to rejoin the Capitals. McPhee suspended Semin last September for failing to report to Washington's minor league affiliate during the lockout.