Why 8 is great: Deconstructing NHL superstar Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin can’t sit still for a minute.

The Washington Capitals superstar fidgets through the team photo shoot at Verizon Center, his skates striding back and forth as he’s forced to park it on a bench. He blows a green gum bubble the size of his head while he exits for the locker room. He employs his T-shirt like a kangaroo’s pouch after a recent practice to bring bottles of Gatorade to his teammates, chirping out each one’s nickname before tossing him a drink. His playfulness is a signature trait.


Ovechkin (left, photo by AP) is a goofball, a fast car aficionado, the star of an Eastern Motors TV spot a year ago, but “he’s a normal guy, a normal 24-year-old NHLer,” said Capitals forward Mike Knuble. “He likes being around people and being who he is.”

Who Ovechkin happens to be is the most electrifying playmaker in hockey.


With a goal in Friday’s win over Atlanta, Ovechkin joined Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy as the only players in NHL history to post four 50-goal seasons in their first five years in the league. “He can score goals. He probably leads our team in hits,” Capitals defenseman John Erskine said. “He’s a force out there.”

This season, Ovechkin tied for second in the league in points (109) and finished third in goals (50) despite missing 10 games, and is the favorite — but not a lock — to win his third straight MVP award. Two weeks ago, though, Ovechkin said it wouldn’t “be the end of the world” if he missed out on the accolades. “I’m not going to kill myself,” he joked.

But when the playoffs start this week, Ovechkin — shiny individual trophies or not — is the one game-breaker no team wants to face in its pursuit of the Stanley Cup. The Canadiens, who play Ovechkin and the top-seeded Capitals in the first round, probably aren’t thrilled about it.

Fellow Russian and NHL Hall of Famer Slava Fetisov told

The Washington Post

during the Olympics that Ovechkin is “the most dangerous player in the world.” Fetisov might be biased, but he might be right. And these five all-world attributes are what makes No. 8 so great:

1. A lethal shot
It's fast, accurate and heavy. It stings if you can't avoid it (just ask Islanders defenseman Jack Hillen, who took an Ovechkin shot to the teeth in January). And thanks to his lightning-quick release, unassuming goalies can hardly get a glimpse of Ovechkin's blasts before they blow by. With 269 goals over the past five years, Ovechkin has lit the lamp more often than any other player in the league.

"He can shoot at any time, from anywhere, and it's going 100 miles per hour," Erskine said. "It catches players and goalies off guard, and the next thing you know, it's in the back of the net."

2. High hockey IQ
"He's a big guy, he's fast and he's got a real great shot," said forward Tomas Fleischmann, before pausing to chuckle and shake his head. "And he's got hockey sense. ... It's all packaged together. That's why he's the best."

Because of a rare combo of skills and savvy, Ovechkin's primary occupation will always be goal-scorer. He uses his speed and size to create space when he has the puck. When the puck isn't on his stick, he knows how to get into prime scoring areas. And when he gets a pass, it's usually a wise decision for him to take that booming shot.

But Ovechkin has made great strides in helping his teammates get goals, too. He set a career-high with 59 assists this season, finishing with more assists than goals for the first time since his rookie season in 2005-06.


3. Passion
Ovechkin's passion overflows when he leaps into the glass to celebrate a goal, like a rockstar taking a stage dive into his adoring audience. You see it when he tracks down opponents to deliver a booming open-ice hit. And it's there when he flashes that goofy, gap-toothed grin, something he does quite often. It's clear Ovechkin loves his day job. "He's our biggest player because he has the biggest heart for hockey," Fleischmann said.

Erskine said that's the reason fans gravitate toward Ovechkin. "Fans want to feel the same passion for the game that he feels."

4. Slick hands
Ovechkin, a righty, routinely makes defensemen look silly. "He's one of those guys that comes down on you one-on-one and you're actually a little bit scared," Avalanche defenseman John-Michael Liles said a couple of years ago. If defensemen quake in their skates when trying to stop him, imagine what goalies are thinking as Ovechkin bears down on them in the shootout.

Need proof of the embarrassment he can cause? Fire up YouTube and search for "Ovechkin" and any combination of the words "sick," "nasty," "amazing," and "highlights." You'll have plenty of examples to choose from.

5. Explosiveness
"He's so strong, so fast and he's built like a running back," former NHL goalie Kevin Weekes recently told "If you have a guy that skates that well and that fast at 235 pounds, it's pretty scary."

It's a legit comparison. Ovechkin, who is listed at 6-foot-2, 233 pounds, is like Vikings running back Adrian Peterson on skates. Strong and shifty, Ovechkin is sometimes a speeding freight train, initiating contact instead of waiting for it to come to him. Other times, he turns on the jets and skates around defenders.

Knuble said it's Ovechkin's ability to quickly shift gears that makes him so difficult to contain. "It's just explosiveness," he said. "You can see that it's just a different pace when he's out there."

Matt Vensel is a content creator for b. Follow him on Twitter, @mattvensel.