The sky of the modern NHL shines brightly with many young stars. Players like Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, Paul Stastny, Pavel Datsyuk, and Jordan Staal are some of the fresh faces that hockey fans are getting to know via highlight reel footage on their local sports news program.

Amidst all of these burgeoning studs, there’s one young player whose skill and playing style places him at the top of the pile. Just like the actual night sky has Polaris (the “North Star”), which shines more brightly than any other star, the NHL’s “sky of youthful talent” has a Polaris as well. Sit down, Sidney Crosby, I’m not referring to you. The best young player in the NHL (and best overall skater since Mario Lemieux, in my opinion) is obviously the dynamic and prolific Alexander Ovechkin.

Ovechkin was drafted 1st overall by the Washington Capitals in the 2004 entry draft, but didn’t skate in his first NHL game until the next year as the 2004-’05 NHL season got locked out. Before being drafted, Ovechkin had been projected as the 1st overall pick for two years, and was billed as the next Mario Lemieux. Out of sight and out of mind due to the locked-out season, many hockey fans, including myself, forgot all about the coveted young Russian sniper that the Caps had landed… but not for long.

After the lockout, most hockey fans were focused on the pending draft lottery that would give a lucky team the opportunity to draft another projected superstar, Sidney Crosby. Crosby had been touted as much, if not more than, Ovechkin was prior to being drafted. Canadians, easily the most devoted and knowledgeable ice hockey fans, saw “Sid the Kid” as their next Wayne Gretzky-an athlete that would dominate “their” game and restore their historic reputation as the country producing the most talented ice hockey players.

As it turned out, the Pittsburgh Penguins wound up winning the lottery to draft Crosby, which they promptly did. Two years earlier, these Penguins had chosen Evgeni Malkin, another highly touted Russian star with the second-overall pick following Washington’s selection of Ovechkin. Crosby’s ability was apparent as he jumped right into the NHL game with a great deal of fanfare and attention, and his presence, along with Malkin (who was literally smuggled out of Russia to play his first NHL season after the locked out ’04-’05 campaign), instantly returned the struggling Penguins franchise to relevance and respectability.

Over the past three seasons, as most ice hockey pundits and announcers (many of which happen to be Canadian) have drooled over and praised the play of Crosby, Ovechkin’s game and presence has been gaining momentum like a snowball rolling down a mountain slope. The son of former professional soccer player Mikhail Ovechkin and two-time Soviet basketball Olympic gold-medalist Tatyana Ovechkin, Alexander’s play, even in the sleepy market of Washington D.C., was demanding attention. He broke the record for most shots on goal by a rookie in the ’05-’06 season with 425, and set the record for points by a Russian-born NHL rookie with 106.

However, it was an unbelievable goal (since dubbed “The Goal”) scored on January 16th of the 2006-2007 season that catapulted Ovechkin into the awareness of hockey fans everywhere. Driving to the net against the Phoenix Coyotes, Ovechkin got checked to the ice in the slot. Sliding on his back across the slot, Ovechkin hooked an incredible blind shot past Coyotes keeper Brian Boucher with the blade of his stick. One of the most incredible goals in hockey history by many accounts, Ovechkin began solidifying his title as the best player in the NHL.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are many young players in the league with ability that is comparable to Ovechkin’s. However, none of these fresh stars-not Malkin, Kane, Staal, and especially Crosby-plays the game with the intensity and edge that Washington’s number 8 brings to the ice every shift. As with most NHL superstars, Crosby and the others are great for a clutch goal, lightning skating speed, incredible passing, and superb ice vision. Unlike the other superstars, however, you can count on Ovechkin for a huge hit, a spirited fight, and defensively responsible play.

 Sidney Crosby has built a reputation for crying to the refs after being obstructed or taking a cheap shot on a play; Alex Ovechkin has built a reputation for taking numbers and effectively handling his own business on the ice.

Although Ovechkin has Donald Brashear for protection, just as Crosby and Malkin have the fierce Georges Laraque in the Steel City, Ovechkin often protects himself with a physical, hard-nosed game seldom seen in players of his caliber. He skates like a young Eric Lindros, only Ovechkin’s offensive ability is much more dynamic than the hulking Lindros’s was.

Watching the Washington Capitals this season has provided the treat of seeing Ovechkin fly around the rink every shift he is on the ice. Every time he gets control of the puck, it seems like something magical is about to happen. He picks up a head of steam in a heartbeat, and goes coast-to-coast for scoring chances almost at will. This isn’t to indicate that Ovechkin is a glory-hounding stat hog; he often uses his status as the most dangerous player in hockey to draw the defense’s attention and thread a pass to Alexander Semin or Nicklas Backstrom for an easy tap-in goal. It’s no accident that he currently leads the league in two of the three scoring categories with 65 goals and 112 points.
Consider that for a moment… 65 goals! That’s a Washington Capitals record, boys and girls. He’s 22 years old, and it seems like his game improves exponentially with each passing season. He’s the first player to put the biscuit in the basket 60 times in an NHL season since Lemieux did it as a seasoned vet in the ’95-’96 NHL campaign! By the way, there’s two games left to play and it’s not unrealitstic to consider the possibility that this kid could get five more for an even 70.

Whether or not the upstart Capitals, who are in the playoff race after a dreadful, coach-firing start to this season, make the post-season this year, Alex Ovechkin should easily be the league’s Hart Trophy winner for MVP. Some hockey pundits are penciling in Malkin as the MVP, likely due to his ability to carry the soaring Penguins to their division lead in the absence of a frequently injured Crosby (and, perhaps, also due to his proximity to “Golden Boy” Sidney Crosby), but this option is giving the award to a less valuable skater based on the performance of a team that is much more talented overall.

I’ll say it one more time…Alexander Ovechkin is the best hockey player in the NHL today. There are many excellent choices in young, talented players to follow and revere, but for me the choice is easy. I want the guy who will beat you in the stat sheet and against the boards. I want the kid that gets so excited for every goal, you’d think he never scored before. I want the player that takes over games and wills a sub-par club into the “W” column.

Give me Alexander Ovechkin any day of the week.

About The Author

Jason Morrini is a Blast Magazine correspondent

8 Responses

  1. shaune

    Jason Morroni

    Ovechkin could possibly be the best player this year only due to default. If Crosby had not got injuried, he would have left everyone behind in the scoring race. He would have had atleast 130+ this year. That being said Crosby would once again won most of the major awards again. Ovechkin plays very well on a team he can be a puck hog and go to guy. Lokk at the shots he takes on a nightly basis. Look at shot % compared to Malkin and Crosby against Ovenchkin.
    So give Ovechkin his due this year cause he’ll never see it again as long as Crosby is playing the game. Let’s just see over the next 5 years who puts up crazy amounts of points and wins all the awards. Let’s not forget Ovenchkin is 2 full years older then Crosby.

    Reply
  2. victor

    ahh yesss… the old “if crosby didnt”… my friend i will take great pleasure in crushing your hopes and dreams:

    Ovechkin’s points per game: 1.38
    Crosby’s pointer per game: 1.35

    so you see it wouldnt matter, this is the only evidence we have about this season in terms of what would happen had both competed — so if we are to make ANY assumptions it is on the only evidence that we have, which leads us to conclude that AO would have beaten the “kid”.

    end of argument — well it could be but i have more.

    the fact is that crosby DID get injured would you rather have a player who snipes you 65 goals? or a player who misses 20+ games and then you can sit around and wonder about what could have been?

    resiliance is a part of the game its another stat, just like goal scoring.

    saying that crosby “would have beaten ovechkin if only he didnt get injured” is the same as saying he “would have beaten ovechkin if only he scored 70 goals” niether of them are traits of sidney crosby. if he scored 70 he wouldnt be the crosby we know, if he didnt get injured he wouldnt be the crosby we know.

    in his 3 seasons in the nhl crosby has already: broken his foot, pulled his groin, and sat out with an ankle injury — twice. how can he get get injured so much while playing such a non physical game? (he doesnt dish out the hits anything like AO)

    3 major injuries in 3 nhl seasons is not a good way to start a career — i predict crosby’s days will be plagued with injuries eventually ending his hype.

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  3. don

    goals are more important than assits

    for every goal TWO assits are up for grabs, therefore its twice as hard to score a goal then to get an assist.

    also

    a goal can come without an assits, but an assits can NEVER come without a goal.

    ovechkin is more valuable because goals are more valuable. talk to me again when crosby gets at least 50. (i guess he has to get to 40 first). let alone 65.

    second assits are a very stupid idea .. perhaps we should just give 3rd assists too?

    the penguins always make sure their golden boy crosby touches the puck before they shoot on the powerplay — just watch the replays — the coach tells them to do this so sid can live up to the hype (but he never will).

    Reply
  4. J. Morroni

    I’m really stoked that my opinion on Ovechkin has spurred this type of debate! This is a discussion that should be going on for some time to come…

    I’d like to expound on the INTANGIBLES that make me love Ovechkin so much more than Sid…

    — AO hits people hard, and he hits people often. Ovechkin’s game has a physical and competitive edge, one that can be found at any time on any shift.
    A lot of announcers make a big deal when Crosby throws a hard check on a prone skater with his head down every once in a while. Crosby picks a rare spot and hits, and afterwards, he’s quick to dive on retalliations for a call, or to hide behind his mates. Ovechkin hits everybody all the time, head down or up.

    — Ovechkin plays like a warrior with a visible passion and competitive fire that is exciting to watch. Crosby has a lot of competiveness as well, but his comes across (in my opinion, anyway) as a petulant expectancy of his greatness. You could say Ovechkin’s game is all skill in the format of a grinding energy-line player; Crosby’s game is all skill in the format of a prima-donna superstar (in the style of an Alexei Kovalev). I’ve never seen a player outside of European club soccer cry to the refs as much as Crosby. I feel that 9 out of 10 fans who have played competitive ice hockey can pick up on Crosby’s arrogance and the skin-deep modesty he displays as the de-facto “face of the NHL”.

    — On pure skill, I can’t knock Crosby any more than I can praise Ovechkin. Crosby is ALL THAT in terms of hockey ability, just like Ovechkin. It’s the aspects of the game aside from scoring, passing, and offense that Ovechkin trumps Crosby in — things like hitting, fighting, sportsmanship, work in the corners, playing through the shots that EVERY player takes without crying to refs, etc.

    I wanted to admire Crosby’s game when he came into the league, but I’ve skated against his type enough to be turned off the first time I saw him whine to the stripes after a marginal missed call (and again and again, afterwards). I admire his ability, but hate his persona and intangibles.

    Like I said, give me Ovechkin any day. He does it all, and his game speaks for itself. Also, in response to the “what if Crosby didn’t get hurt” arguement…. Crosby DID get hurt, and Evgeni Malkin had a much better year as a result. That’s just the way it is…

    Reply
  5. Kevin Gleason

    here’s what my buddy said: “there’s no doubt, this season, that ovechkin is the mvp of the league. But crosby sat out a large majority of the season with an injury. Crosby is compared to gretzky not for scoring prowess, but for leadership. Just him being on the team took all the other players on the penguins team to another level. But Ovechkin definitely had the most dominant season in the nhl…but saying he’s better then crosby, is extremely flawed. is he close!? hell ya…it he better, or equal? no way…your friend is a very good writer though!!!”

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  6. J. Morroni

    I think my admiration for Ovechkin and the way he approaches the game tends to cloud the respect that I hold for Crosby’s ability. A big reason that I wrote this article was to stir up this sort of discussion.

    It’s my opinion that Ovechkin is a more exciting and complete player than Crosby. My opinion reflects my preferences–I’m the type of person who places a lot of merit with physical, hard-hitting play and attitude/leadership. It’s the kind of player I was when I played the game (a role-playing pest that got by on heart and determination more than ability). My favorite players in the NHL are the rare players that can light the lamp and send an opponent to the trainer for smelling salts in the same shift — Olli Jokinen, Mike Richards, Joe Thornton, etc.

    Reaching for reasons of why I’m just flat-out not a fan of Crosby’s approach, I’d say the hoopla surrounding #87 and his burgeoning career is partly to blame (not really Crosby’s fault at all). I heard about how unbelievably great he was before he was in the league, 90% of the announcers fawn over his every play when you watch a game involving the Penguins, and the NHL has gone a little too far in their ad-nauseum marketing of him as the “face of the game”.

    The other reason that I don’t enjoy watching Crosby that much is something that he can control. I CAN NOT stand a player that consistenty cries to officials, in any sport. Sid’s been getting a little better about this, but I’m far from the only one in the ranks of hockey fans who consider him to be a cry-baby. Every player gets a bad call and chats with the stripes now and then, and some (Sid) do it very frequently. Again, just my opinion.

    Since I’ve written readers blind about why I think Ovechkin is so great and prefer him to Crosby, let me turn things around and sprinkle a little love on the “Kid”…

    Sidney Crosby is an extremely creative playmaker with an unparalelled vision for the ice and play development. In my opinion, again, it’s this quality that draws the Gretzky comparisons more than “leadership” qualities. Outside of his talent and ability providing a ripple of confidence throughout the locker room, I don’t think Crosby is the leader he will be down the road quite yet. I also consider Mark Messier to have had more leadership qualities than a young Gretzky in the Edmonton dynasty. It’s Crosby’s vision, skill, and hockey intelligence that draw comparisons to the Great One; save the instant leadership raves for my very favorite current NHL player, Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers.

    Sidney Crosby perserveres through EXTREME pressure to perform as the superstar of the NHL. Just because I don’t really like the guy doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize the weight he carries on his shoulders. My favorite player as a kid (another great example of skill and toughness) was Eric Lindros, who had the same type of pressure. Crosby carries the weight of the hopes of Canada on his back. That’s a lot of pressure from a nation that identifies with ice hockey as much as the Maple Leaf on their national flag. Crosby’s production at his tender young age shows he’s up to the challenge, and I think he deserves some major credit for that.

    So, hopefully I’ve reiterated my preference for Ovechkin while simultaneously showing that I’m not blind to the positives and accomplishments of Sidney Crosby. Preference… opinion… discussion and debate… that’s what being a sports fan is all about. It’s really a positive for ice hockey and all of us hockey fans that there are so many great young players providing topics for us to debate and discuss, both in internet sports blogs and over pints at the bar. This Crosby/Ovechkin debate should provide discussions with every passing NHL season for years to come, and the true winners of such debate are the National Hockey League and it’s tremendously passionate fan-base!

    Reply
  7. Kevin Gleason

    how could you forget to mention Dave Babych in this discussion??

    Reply
  8. J. Morroni

    Man, Ovechkin is really making me eat my words with his diving in this series against Philly. He’s breaking my heart like Frodo Corleone broke Michael’s heart in Godfather II !!!

    I really hope AO’s diving is a result of him being frustrated with the way the Flyers are shutting him down, and not a permanent black eye that is emerging from his otherwise admirable “gamesmanship” <– (is that a word??)

    Reply

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