Caps' Ovechkin dueling with Pittsburgh's Crosby for rookie honors
Washington is not usually considered a hockey town, but one rookie phenom could bring back plenty of fans. He hasn't been labeled "the Next One" or called the future of the National Hockey League (NHL), but Alexander Ovechkin entered the NHL as the number one overall pick two years ago and with high expectations. One of this season's most intriguing subplots will be the battle between Ovechkin and his fellow rookie, 18-year old Sidney Crosby for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's Rookie of the Year.
Crosby was the top amateur before being taken as the first overall pick in the 2005 NHL draft and was often called "the next Wayne Gretzkey." He was expected to enter the league and be an instant force — an expectation he has lived up to. Ovechkin has matched Crosby's statistical production so far this season. At this early juncture, Ovechkin has proved to be an invaluable component of the Capitals' offense and looks to be firmly in the race for Rookie of the Year honors.
In his first NHL game, Ovechkin scored two goals to lead Washington to a win over Columbus. Since then, Ovechkin hasn't stopped scoring. His 13 points thus far is second only to Crosby's 14 among rookies, and leads the Capitals. He leads rookies in scoring with eight goals and also has five assists to his name. With his first two goals against Columbus, Ovechkin became the first-ever number one overall pick to score two goals in his NHL debut.
He opened the season with an eight-game point streak that smashed the Capitals' old club record for rookies and was the longest streak by a rookie since 1994. Ovechkin has been active in all of the Capitals' first 11 games, notching at least one point in 10 of those contests. Ovechkin has had a hand in 54.2 percent of Washington's goals, the highest in the league.
Since leaving behind his Russian club Dynamo and entering the NHL, Ovechkin has led the Caps to four wins. At a burly 6'2 and 212 lbs. Ovechkin is a load for most defenseman on the left wing and already has 24 pretty powerful hits under his belt—the most among rookies.
After scoring two goals in Friday night's loss to the defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning, Capital's GM George McPhee remarked that Ovechkin has gone above and beyond the expectations set before him. "He's what every manager and team and fan base hopes for," he said. "We just hope he never changes because he's been perfect."
With the season only one month complete, Ovechkin has shown that he has the potential to be a long-term star for the Capitals. He is producing the way that Jaromir Jagr could not when he was in Washington. Expect Ovechkin to perform well enough to make Washington fans forget about Jagr and focus on their new, 20-year old prodigy. Ovechkin and Crosby have shown that the future of the NHL is in good hands. If he keeps up his pace the Russian Ovechkin will win this (ice) cold war in the battle for the 2005-2006 Calder trophy.
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