Alex Ovechkin has become a household name in the world of sports. After leading the Washington Capitals to their first Stanley Cup championship in 2018, his legacy as an all-time great has been cemented. This begs the question, what am I doing writing about whether he was worth the first overall pick in the 2004 NHL entry draft? Because a player by the name of Evgeni Malkin was taken with the second overall pick in that same draft. Ovechkin isn’t the only winner here, Malkin has won 3 Stanley Cup Finals while playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Now, winning in hockey is done as a team so we have to look at what each also accomplished individually.
Alex Ovechkin came into the league with a bang! When the NHL resumed play in 2005, he promptly went on to score 52 goals and add in 54 assists to finish third in league scoring with 106 points. The league awarded him with the Calder trophy for being the best rookie in the league. Second in the Calder race that year was Sidney Crosby, a well-known player regarded by most as possibly the best in the NHL. As rookies, Ovechkin was recognized as the better player, but this was a sign of things to come for the ‘Great Eight’ Alex Ovechkin. Over his illustrious career he has won the Rocket Richard trophy, for leading the NHL in goals, a record 8 times. He has also won the Hart Memorial Trophy three times for being the most valuable player in the National Hockey League. He won the Ted Lindsey award three times for being judged the most outstanding player in the regular season by The NHL Players Association. Everyone, from league officials to the media and his peers all consider his talent, work ethic, and impact among the best in the league. Alex Ovechkin has posted 1278 points in the 1152 games he has played, averaging out to 1.1 points per game. He is also a plus 82, meaning 82 more goals were scored by his team when he was on the ice than those scored against. While being a positive player is definitely a good start, his plus minus has ranged from being a negative 35 to a positive 45. Although plus/minus is not a perfect statistic, it at least serves as a starting point to discuss a player’s overall value on the ice. Along with being a gifted goal scorer, Alex Ovechkin is also a true power forward: averaging about 190 hits and around 50 penalty minutes per season. When he is on the ice, opponents better keep their heads on a swivel. Having personally seen Alex Ovechkin multiple times, his full speed is like a freight train and he is not afraid to use his body to get the puck from his opponents. His impact on the power play is undeniable, too. He fires his deadly one timer from the left faceoff dot, an area dubbed as his “office”. He has led the NHL in power play goals six times demonstrating his excellent consistency in this aspect of his game. Some even believe Ovechkin may be able to break Wayne Gretzky’s record for goals one day. In an era where goal scoring has never been lower, this would be a feat few ever thought would be possible. Lastly, using Corsi Relative Percentage, the difference in shot attempts between when a player is on vs off the ice, we can get closer to isolating and understanding Alex Ovechkin’s individual impact on the game. A positive Corsi Relative percentage means a player is making his team better, a zero means he has no impact, and a negative signifies that he is making his team worse. For Alex Ovechkin’s career his team averages 15.7% more shots when he is on the ice at even strength than when he is off the ice. Alex Ovechkin is the centerpiece for the Washington Capitals and an elite talent regarded highly all around and within the NHL.
Evgeni Malkin did not start his career the same year as Ovechkin due to an international transfer dispute. This may have been a blessing in disguise as he was able to win the Calder trophy in 2006 by scoring 85 points in 78 games. He most likely would not have won that award a year earlier going up against the likes of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. He won the Heart Memorial trophy for the 2011-2012 season after scoring 50 goals and 59 assists in just 75 games played. Twice he has won the Art Ross trophy for leading the NHL in points in both the 2008-2009 and 2011-2012 seasons. He also won the Ted Lindsey award, just like Ovechkin, demonstrating his peer’s respect for his skills on the ice. Malkin sometimes does not get the recognition he deserves due to the fact that he plays on the same team as fellow superstar Sidney Crosby. For his career, Malkin has 416 goals, 660 assists and 1076 points in 907 games played. On a point per game basis, Malkin ranks 14th all time with 1.186 points per game while the ‘Great Eight’ only ranks 24th. In 2009, the Pittsburgh Penguins won their first Stanley Cup with Malkin on the team. He also won the Conn Smythe award that year, an award given to the most valuable player in the NHL playoffs. He led the NHL playoffs in points with 36 and shots with 104 in just 24 games played. In 2017, the Penguins won their third Stanley cup, and, once again, Malkin led all players in points during the playoffs. However, Sidney Crosby was the one able to take home his Conn Smythe award for the second year in a row. Now, Evgeni Malkin has never been known for his durability in the NHL as he averages only about 65 games per season, but he is one of the most productive players in hockey history. He has managed to be a plus 73, but, like Ovechkin, has struggled from year to year ranging from a negative 25 to a plus 18. Malkin, like Ovechkin, has been a strong Corsi player throughout his career at a positive 14%. His immense scoring talent along with his championship pedigree makes him one of the best players in the history of the NHL, even if he usually comes in second on his own team.
Throughout their careers, both Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin have been called lazy by the media at one point or another. Sometimes players with this much talent make the game look so easy they can almost seem “lazy” playing it. In the early and middle parts of his career, people questioned Ovechkin’s commitment to play defense and whether he had what it took to be the leader of a championship team. When he won the Stanley Cup as captain of the Washington capitals in 2018, he put those questions to bed. He has scored 65 goals and has 126 points in 128 games but that isn’t the standard fans have come to appreciate from the Great Eight. However, in 2018 he managed to put up 27 points in 24 games and lead the playoffs with 15 goals to win the Conn Smythe award. When it comes to international play, neither Malkin nor Ovechkin has ever won an Olympic gold medal, but Ovechkin does have bragging rights to three gold medals and two silver medals in world championship play while Malkin has two golds and two silver medals. All of Makin’s medals came while playing with Ovechkin, and Ovechkin won gold in 2008 without Malkin. Evgeni Malkin is a three-time Stanley Cup Champion, two-time points leader in the NHL, and an impactful force every time he steps on the ice. Injuries have always been the main thing that has always held Malkin back from being in the same conversation as the all-time greats. Thankfully for hockey fans, especially Washington Capitals fans, Alex Ovechkin has been as durable as any player in the NHL. As a result, his goal scoring dominance and fiery play have been joyfully experienced by Capitals fans for 14 years and counting. While Malkin may be a more efficient points scorer and have more Stanley cups to his name, Alex Ovechkin gets the edge here due to his historic goal scoring and ability to finally bring home the Cup for the city of Washington in 2018.