Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin continues to climb the all-time goals list.
With his 35th goal of the season Wednesday night in a 5-4 loss to the Nashville Predators, Ovechkin officially cemented himself as the ninth-highest goal scorer in NHL history.
“I think people are starting to see this now and don’t appreciate what they’re seeing,” said Ed Frankovic, who was the team statistician for the Capitals for ten years.
Frankovic has been watching hockey since Washington became a franchise in 1974 and he says there’s never been a player like Ovechkin.
“He just has the ability to find all kinds of different ways to score. And you add in his physicality, his charisma and he’s just a special guy,” he said.
In terms of catching Wayne Gretzky for the lead in goals – even just a few years ago – it was unlikely according to Frankovic. Since Ovechkin changed his training habits the year before his team won the Stanley Cup, Frankovic said he has a 50 per cent chance of catching the great one.
“That has paid off for him,” Frankovic said. “He’s got his speed back. He’s always had the ability to get a shot off quickly, but that addition of getting his speed back that he kind of lost for a few years, has bumped him back up into a 50 goal range.”
Gretzky scored at an incredible 81 goal pace between 1982-1985, but even with bigger and better goaltenders, Frankovic said with the way the game has opened up, with less clutching and grabbing, Ovechkin now has a chance.
During Wednesday night’s warmup, Ovechkin honoured the late Kobe Bryant by wearing number 24.
“It was not a surprise to me that he wanted to do something to honour Kobe and pay tribute to him,” said NBC Sports Washington reporter J.J. Regan.
“He was visibly upset when he heard the news. You can see it in the interview that he did with the media afterward. He was clearly a little bit shaken by it,” Regan said.
Rob Carlin, the NBC Sports Washington Capitals pre-game show host, has interviewed Ovechkin, including on his podcast Capitals Talk.
“There is a little bit of like larger than life. Every time he gets popular it’s like, ‘wow, this is one of the greats.’ Just very accessible,” he said.
“He’s been an ambassador for the franchise since day one and the league basically since day one.”
Carlin has watched Ovechkin mature over the last eight or nine years.
“To watch how he’s matured as a player, how he’s matured as a leader, as a captain, and the understanding that carried the weight of all the playoff failures for all those years…,” he said.
“So he’s really accepted and taken on the challenge of being the leader on this team.”