Alex Ovechkin is on the precipice of an important hockey milestone, once again showing the world why no one should doubt his greatness.
Alex Ovechkin remains just two goals away from hitting No. 700 for his career, a milestone that would put him in the company that only seven other hockey players in the entire NHL have reached. It’s a momentous occasion, that will no doubt be met with praise and celebration… when it happens.
As it should! Ovechkin hitting the 700 goal mark is huge for the sport of hockey. What Ovechkin is doing now — in the modern NHL — when compared to what Wayne Gretzky did in the 80s and 90s, there’s no question that the former’s goal-scoring ability is more impressive. Goaltenders are better in the modern NHL and scoring is harder, making Ovechkin’s quest that much more revolutionary when you know what he’s facing each night.
However, it hasn’t always been this way for Ovechkin. In the early to mid-2000s, calling Ovechkin “washed” was the norm, which became a narrative that shaped much of his career. During the 2011-12 season, Ovechkin posted just 65 points in 78 games, the lowest of his career during a non-lockout season. In 2010-11, Ovechkin put up 32 goals — the fewest during one single season of his career — a drop off of 33 goals from his career-high that he posted four seasons prior.
It wasn’t just Ovechkin’s numbers that sparked criticism from the hockey world. Much of his career, Ovechkin has faced the narrative that he’s a one-dimensional player, that he’s reluctant to back-check and make defensive plays for his team. Previous head coaches such as Dale Hunter attempted to make Ovechkin play a more defensive style of game during his tenure in Washington, but when put under coaches such as Barry Trotz or Todd Reirden, Ovechkin has flourished.
Ovechkin isn’t a perfect hockey player. He’s not as well-rounded as rival Sidney Crosby is in all the facets of his game. Ovechkin is also a streaky goal-scorer, as evidenced by his current five-game goalless drought headed into Thursday night’s game.
And yet, Ovechkin has continued to prove people wrong time and time again. In the seasons following his worst scoring year, Ovechkin proceeded to win four consecutive Rocket Richard trophies as the NHL’s goal-scoring leader and has won the award in six of the last seven seasons.
When faced with comparisons to Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins, a team that won Stanley Cups in back-to-back seasons and rolled over the Washington Capitals en route to those championships, Ovechkin and his team persisted. Then finally, during the 2017-18 season, Ovechkin lead the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup victory in franchise history, besting the Penguins during those same playoffs and solidifying his legacy in the hockey world.
Given the emotional catharsis of Ovechkin’s 2018 Stanley Cup victory, and just how hard it is to win one in general, it’s hard to think anyone will bar Ovechkin from the conversation of being one of the “greatest of all time” with just one championship to his name. Of course, Ovechkin could win more before his career is over, but now that he’s won his first, that conversation has since faded into the background.
With season scoring titles and a Stanley Cup to his name, Ovechkin has one more mountain to climb: the NHL’s goal-scoring record. Getting to the 700 mark is just the start for Ovechkin. Realistically, Ovechkin has a chance to pass Gretzky before his career is over. He also has a real opportunity, should he stay healthy and play long enough, to hit 1,000 goals in his career.
It’s not controversial to say Ovechkin is the best goal scorer of the modern era. Should he pass Gretzky in the next few years, Ovechkin will be the best goal scorer of all time. After that, is Ovechkin the best player of all-time in the NHL? It’s hard to argue against making a case for it, especially when you consider his goal-scoring trajectory in comparison to his peers since 2005-06.
Time after time, Ovechkin has risen to the challenge of proving his doubters and detractors wrong in the past. With one more hurdle to overcome, we can’t wait to see how Ovechkin proves us wrong in the seasons to come.
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