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12 Years Of Gr8ness: How Ovechkin’s Leadership Led Capitals To New Heights

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Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin

Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin already has cemented his legacy and place in the history books. He’s a dynamic goal scorer, arguably the best in the game (stats aside), and of course, the greatest power-play scorer to ever play in the Show. However, he will also be remembered as a leader that helped completely transform a franchise.

On this day 12 years ago, Jan. 5, 2010, the Capitals decided on a new captain with Chris Clark and company dealt to Columbus and turned to the Great 8. A young Alex Ovechkin, at the age of 26, would become the first European and the second-youngest player in franchise history to wear the “C.” Since then, he has brought Washington new heights.

Of course, even before taking over as captain, Ovechkin made a difference and help turn the team around with his high-flying play and stellar scoring ability. However, as he took over, there was a different approach, more maturity and a different attitude that made its way through the dressing room.

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Under Ovechkin’s leadership, the Capitals have been able to maintain a high standard of play and expectations over the last 12 seasons. Since taking over, the team has the most points (1,176) in the NHL and is tied for the most wins (535) over that span. Washington has also clinched a playoff berth in all but one season and captured eight division titles. And of course, in 2018, Ovechkin led the Capitals to its second Eastern Conference Championship and its first-ever Stanley Cup. He led the charge with 15 goals over that run, which earned him the Conn Smythe. He is also the first Russian captain in NHL history to hoist the Cup.

“He’s been great all of his career,” Dmitry Orlov said. “He’s got a lot of points, goals and assists, and he’s a superstar. So what can you say, you know?”

Not only has he helped the team, but he has maintained his consistency and goal-scoring caliber that has led him to eight Rocket Richards since taking over as captain in 2010. Since the start of the 2009-10 campaign in which he became captain in January, he has accumulated 533 goals and 950 points. He has also climbed up the NHL’s all-time goals list, most recently passing Brett Hull for fourth on the list. His 754 goals are just 12 behind Jaromir Jagr for third (766), and he sits 140 red lights away from catching Wayne Gretzky.

“No one likes to score goals more than him. When he does these milestones almost every night now, it’s just amazing to be a part of,” Nicklas Backstrom said of his teammate from the start. “He’s been giving us some good memories too. Being a part that, it’s fun.”

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Before 2021 came to a close, he scored his 275th power-play goal to break the NHL’s all-time record. He also hit the 600th assist mark this season, and ranks third overall in scoring this season with 50 points. Ovechkin has also been able to keep up with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who are both a decade younger.

“He’s certainly moving better,” head coach Peter Laviolette acknowledged earlier in the year. “You can tell that he’s had a good summer, good training camp. Everything was just a little bit off last year. Still had a good year last year, but you can see the jump this year… just looks like he’s moving better.”

“It seems like he is in a real good spot. He is playing with pace, he is finding himself with the puck on his stick a lot,” Peter Laviolette added later in regard to Ovechkin’s success at 36.

Despite all of the milestones, Ovechkin stays modest, and often says he’s just doing his job or taking things day by day. And something he has done well over the course of his career, especially since taking over the captaincy, has been the “team first” mentality, being sure to his teammates and chemistry down the lineup for success overall.

“I try to do my job,” Ovechkin noted. “If we play [well] everybody going to get points.”

As he continues to chase milestones, Ovechkin is also working toward making sure the Capitals remain atop the league, while also leading by example and serving as a mentor. It’s a key role as a captain, especially considering the number of rookies that have drawn into the lineup this season and numerous injuries and run-ins with COVID leaving the team shorthanded.

“He continues to do amazing things, and I’m just fortunate enough to be along for the ride,” Connor McMichael, who dressed as Ovechkin for Halloween at the age of 8, said. “I do catch myself watching him take one-timers in practice. It’s just really cool to see and be around him every day. So you kind of try and take things from his game, but it’s kind of hard to for sure.”

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