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Zaugg: A candidate for 2108

What makes Alexander Ovechkin the prototypical 21st-century forward?

12-05-08
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Quebec City Quebec Canada
Russian Alexander Ovechkin against Denmark's Daniel Nielsen. Photo: IIHF/HHoF/Matthew Manor

QUEBEC CITY – In a few days, the IIHF will name its Centennial All-Star Team, honouring the six best international players of the last 100 years.

I’m not going to get into guessing who will or won’t be on that team.

There’s another much more interesting question: will anybody playing in the 2008 IIHF World Championship crack the 200th anniversary All-Star Team?

The answer is yes.

Going through the list of players, I found two names that jumped out at me: Alexander Ovechkin and Dany Heatley.

But I only picked one.

Physically, both are about the same size. So that won’t be the determining factor. Based purely on stats this year, I’d have to go with Heatley. He’s had seven goals in Canada’s first five games, while Ovechkin has only scored four for Russia.

But stats don’t tell the whole story. The question is, which of these two will be remembered in 2108?

The answer is Ovechkin.

Undoubtedly, Heatley is a great hockey player. But in the final analysis, his greatness is in terms of hockey as we have known it for the last 100 years.

He’s big, strong, fast and tough. He drives to the net, and he knows how to shoot the puck and score goals. But is he the prototype of a player for the next century of international hockey?

Definitely not.

The prototype is Ovechkin. He is also big, strong, fast, and tough. He drives to the net and he can shoot the puck even better than Heatley. In fact, he shoots the puck better than anyone else in the world today.

But he brings another element.

Ovechkin has many more options in terms of beating his opponents in one-on-one siutations. Heatley, meanwhile, generally looks like he is trying to skate through his opponents. This is the style of the last century. Maybe he has two or three ways he can win a one-on-one battle.

But Ovechkin has 15 or 20 ways. Because this 22-year-old left wing is not just a smart player like fifty other guys you could name.  He is more than that. He is a genius. You never know what’s coming next with him. He is constantly creating new positions from which he can score a goal. He can spin right around a player, he can tap dance around a defenceman with pure finesse, he can beat them wide with his raw speed, or he can knock a guy down if he wants.

He brings the complete package, and he is as fearless as a robot. But unlike a robot, he has an overwhelming passion for the game.

There is no more complete individual player out there.

Ovechkin is the first player for the next century of hockey. There will be many more outstanding professional players like him in the future. But he will be remembered as the first of his breed.

Will he be successful as Henri Richard and win 11 Stanley Cups? Or will he win 10 world titles, like Vladislav Tretiak or Alexander Ragulin? No, he will not. In this era of the NHL salary cap, it’s impossible to build dynasties like the old Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, or Edmonton Oilers. And over the next 100 years, it’s reasonable to surmise that a good number of top players will not be able to participate in each and every World Championship due to their NHL commitments.

I’m picking Ovechkin right now for the 200th anniversary All-Star Team. Because hey, I might not be on the jury when they name that squad in 2108.

KLAUS ZAUGG

Klaus Zaugg is a Swiss hockey journalist who has covered the IIHF World Championship since 1981. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the official views of the IIHF.

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