Calder Corner: Ovechkin pulls ahead in rookie race

By Tanya Lyon

The Washington Capitals came into Anaheim on Friday riding the coattails of rookie phenom Alexander Ovechkin. While Ovechkin entered the game red hot having recently earned the NHL’s offensive player of the week award and had scored 9 goals and 18 points in his last 11 games, the Capitals themselves entered the game looking to improve their league worst 4-13-1 road record. Luckily for them, the Russian prodigy would live up to the hype on Friday when he single-handedly outplayed the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Ovechkin would earn the first hat trick of his NHL career and help the Capitals to their first win of 2006.

“He keeps on doing stuff like this,” said Washington Capitals Head Coach Glen Hanlon. “Just when I thought I’ve seen it all, he does something again. He did a lot of things tonight that were pretty impressive. I think you got a pretty good idea of what a force he is.”

“I’m happy to score the goals and that we won the game. [Your] first hat trick is like your first goal in the NHL,” said an elated Ovechkin.

Ovechkin’s performance on Friday was exactly what the Capitals and the rest of the NHL have begun to expect from the talented left wing. In fact, before the 2005-06 season even began, many members of the media claimed that Ovechkin and fellow Calder hopeful Sidney Crosby were burdened with the task of “saving” the league. This was especially ironic considering neither player had a game of NHL experience between them. However, both players have fared well in the new NHL fueling constant comparisons between the two and causing many in the media to assume that the race for the Calder Trophy is a two-man race. Ovechkin himself seems annoyed that other rookies have been overlooked and is quick to point out that the league is flooded with a crop of talented rookies this season.

“[Anaheim rookie Ryan] Getzlaf is a great player. He’s big. He’s a physical player. A lot of rookies this year have come out, Crosby, me, [Marek] Svatos,” said Ovechkin.

Despite this very talented crop of rookies though, Ovechkin is the favorite to win the Calder Trophy. The Moscow native leads all rookies in goals (32), points (58) and power play goals (13). His stiffest competition thus far seems to be from Pittsburgh’s Crosby and Colorado’s Svatos, but Ovechkin has been putting distance between himself and the competition. He has scored 10 more goals and seven more points than Crosby in two fewer games and has six more goals and 18 more points than Svatos. The Russian rookie is on pace to break the 50-goal mark, a feat that many veteran NHL stars like Vincent Lecavalier have yet to attain. In fact, only one other rookie in NHL history has recorded at least 50 goals and 100 points in a season, Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne back in 1992-93. Ovechkin, however, isn’t looking at these records.

“I don’t think about how many points I must get to 50 or 100. I just go to the ice and enjoy my time right now. I’m playing in the NHL with a great team and I’m enjoying it.”

While Ovechkin is quick to point out that there are many talented rookies, he also acknowledges that he would love to win the trophy.

“I think everybody wants to win the Calder so you have pucks, sticks and ice and you have to go and prove you’re the best,” he said.

The team has enjoyed the fruits of the 2004 first round draft pick’s labors as he has provided the bulk of the scoring for the Washington Capitals this season and while the Capitals record of 15-24-5 certainly proves you can’t depend on any one player for al of your offensive needs, having Ovechkin in the line-up has certainly helped. According to the NHL, he’s scored 32 of the 120 total Capitals 120 goals (an NHL-best 26.67 percent) and has had a hand in 58 of the 120 total Capitals offense (48.4 percent). He averages 20:44 minutes of time on the ice per game and has had 17 multi-point games. He’s scored at least a point in 13 of the Capitals 15 wins and his 58 points were more than double as many points as the Capitals second leading scorer Dainius Zubrus (24 points.)

Ovechkin’s 58 points are also the most points by a Capitals rookie since Bob Carpenter and Chris Valentine established the record of 67 back in 1981-82 and is tied for second most goals by a Capitals rookie. Very impressive considering he’s only 44 games into his rookie season.

But Ovechkin’s game isn’t just about scoring goals. The left wing also likes to throw his 6’2, 216 pound frame around.

“That’s my style. I like to play physical so if I have a chance to hit then I hit,” he said.

Ovechkin has capitalized on his chances and ranks second on the team and tied for 10th in the NHL among all forwards in hits with 89. It’s this combination of goal scoring and physical play that cause many in the NHL to believe he’ll only get better.

“We got beat by a very special player,” said Anaheim head coach Randy Carlyle. “He did everything he had to do to dominate the game in the goal scoring department. He’s a dominant young player. He’s the real deal.”

“Ovie’s 20 years old and he does it all,” said Capitals goaltender Olaf Kolzig. “He scores. He hits. He plays with enthusiasm. He’s a great guy in the dressing room and so yeah he’s the best I’ve played with.”

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