Alex Ovechkin scored his 600th career goal on Tuesday night, becoming the fourth-fastest player to do so in the process. He did it in 990 games, putting him behind only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Brett Hull. He’s in the right company.
Let’s appreciate just how hard Ovechkin’s feat has been. Goaltenders have never been better and yet they are practically powerless against the Washington captain, who has scored many of his goals off one-timers from the top of the circle. It’s a move he works on in practice and I’ve seen his teammates actually line up on the other side of the zone to watch him smash pucks with both ferocity and accuracy.
And while that is his patented move, we’ve also seen ‘Ovie’ score in nearly every other physically possible way. In fact, No. 600 came off several whacks from in close on Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck.
Now that 600 has been met, we can speculate on how many the Capitals sniper will put up before his career ends. While last season seemed to indicate a drop in play from the powerful left winger, the veteran is back to his usual pace, flirting with 50 goals and finding himself battling for the Rocket Richard Trophy (it was kinda fitting that Patrik Laine, the heir to his crown, was playing for the Jets and on the ice for the milestone goal).
Given that Ovechkin’s linemates are young – the crafty and dynamic Evgeny Kuznetsov and intimidating power forward Tom Wilson – we know he will be surrounded by talent for years to come. Is 700 practically a lock? Health will certainly be a factor, but so far Ovechkin has been remarkably durable for a man his size. The fewest amount of games he has played during an 82-game schedule is 72 and that was back in 2009-10. With Wilson doing the dirty work and Kuznetsov carrying the puck, Ovechkin can continue to be the assassin for years to come (and if it’s not Kuznetsov, old buddy Nicklas Backstrom down the middle).
With 700 goals, Ovechkin would join a group with just seven other members: Gretzky, Hull, Gordie Howe, Jaromir Jagr, Marcel Dionne, Phil Esposito and Mike Gartner. Considering that Jagr’s NHL career appears to be over, that leaves only two players in the 800-goal club: Gretzky and Howe. Could Ovechkin join them?
Let’s say he hits 50 this season. The Caps have 13 games remaining and he would need eight goals to do it. Keep in mind that Washington’s next two games are against the porous Islanders, while Montreal and Detroit also sit on the schedule like sacrificial lambs.
From there, let’s say he hits 40 next year. At some point he has to slow down, right? I mean, we’ve been wrong about this before, but for the sake of argument, let’s say he does. Could Ovie then put up 30-35 for five more years? Hull still put up such numbers late in his career, so it’s not unheard of for a player who relies on his devastating shot for many goals.
As for his legacy, we know Ovechkin is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. A Stanley Cup would obviously quiet any dissent, but he is already one of the best goal-scorers of all-time with a ton of individual trophies in his collection. What he has accomplished offensively in this era, where he truly is facing the best competition in the world, is nothing short of stunning.