The 2020-21, pandemic-shortened season is Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin’s 16th season in the National Hockey League (NHL). And even now, at the relatively advanced age (in hockey player terms) of 35, it is still not unreasonable to expect him to be in contention for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for the NHL league lead in goals (despite currently finishing a four-game absence due to the breaking of COVID-19 protocol).
The former first overall pick scored 48 goals during the 2019-20 season, for his 15th consecutive year of topping 30 goals and his 11th season of topping 40 goals.
Ovechkin’s longevity is especially outstanding when compared to his peers, whether those born in his birth year (1985) or drafted alongside him in 2004. This endurance is further accentuated when comparing him to players from either adjacent birth years or draft classes. (Disclaimer: the number of active players will likely prove to be higher since players are not counted as active until they appear on an active NHL roster this season. This includes players currently on injured reserve, on the taxi squad, or currently unsigned who may later play a game during 2020-21.)
A Breakdown is as follows:
Just 18 other players born in 1985 are still active in the NHL, out of 141 players born that year who have played in the NHL; the list of 18 includes Ryan Suter (Minnesota Wild), Brent Burns (San Jose Sharks), Patrice Bergeron Boston Bruins, Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks), Jeff Carter (Los Angeles Kings, Travis Zajac (New Jersey Devils), Shea Weber (Montreal Canadiens), Braydon Coburn (Ottawa Senators), Corey Perry (Montreal Canadiens), Paul Stastny (Winnipeg Jets), Alex Goligoski (Arizona Coyotes), Brad Richardson (Nashville Predators), Jay Beagle (Vancouver Canucks), Carl Soderberg (Chicago Blackhawks), Jaroslav Halak (Boston Bruins), Brian Elliott (Philadelphia Flyers), Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (Colorado Avalanche), and Carter Hutton (Buffalo Sabres).
Additionally, Loui Eriksson was also born in 1985 and is currently assigned to an NHL taxi squads, with the expectation that he will play in NHL games during the 2020-21 season. Defenseman Brent Seabrook is currently on injured reserve and has been recovering from hip and shoulder surgery and is now dealing with back injury, but may eventually return to active status this year.
Among the players of his birth year, Ovechkin has played in the most games (1,156), 11 more than Suter, who has 1,144. Of the remaining active players, Bergeron is the only one who has maintained a 30 goals per year scoring pace. None of the other remaining forwards topped 20 goals in 2019-20. Stastny, Carter, and Soderberg came the closest to 20 goals during the 2019-20 season, each with 17.
Only 12 other players from Ovechkin’s draft class are active in 2020-21, including Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins), Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg Jets), Devan Dubnyk (San Jose Sharks), Alexander Radulov (Dallas Stars), Travis Zajac (New Jersey Devils), Blake Comeau (Dallas Stars), Alex Goligoski (Arizona Coyotes), David Krejci (Boston Bruins), Andrej Sekera (Dallas Stars), Alexander Edler (Vancouver Canucks), Thomas Greiss (Detroit Red Wings), Anton Khudobin (Dallas Stars), and Pekke Rinne (Nashville Predators).
In comparing player productivity to Ovechkin, Malkin, while not as productive in terms of Goals or Points as during his prime, still records just over a point per game. Radulov fell short of 20 goals in 2019-20, but scored over 25 goals in both 2017-18 and 2018-19; Wheeler still scores 20-plus goals a season; Krejci had a down season in 2019-20 but averaged 20 goals per year in the prior four seasons; and Zajac scored 19 goals in 2018-19 but only nine in 2019-20.
When comparing Ovechkin to players born in the years 1984 and 1986, he still compares favorably in productivity. There are just eight NHL players born in 1984, out of the 143 players born that year, who are still playing in the NHL.
This list includes Eric Staal (Buffalo Sabres), Joe Pavelski (Dallas Stars), Dustin Brown (Los Angeles Kings), Valterri Filppula (Detroit Red Wings), Zach Parise (Minnesota Wild), Frans Nielsen (Detroit Red Wings), Marc-Andre Fleury (Vegas Golden Knights), and Nate Thompson (Winnipeg Jets).
Staal scored 42 goals during the 2017-18 season, but has not approached that total since. Pavelski scored 38 goals in 2018-19, but dropped to less than half that amount the following year; Parise has continued to score between 25-30 goals per year; Filppula’s goal-scoring peak came during the 2013-14 season, when he had 25 goals.
The closest he has come to repeating that total was 17 in 2018-19, which dropped to just six goals in 2019-20. After his 25-goal season, he generally scored 15-20 goals per year until 2018-19, when he had 10 and 2019-20, when he had just four goals.
There are only 17 players left of 138 who appeared in at least one NHL contest that were born in 1986 including Keith Yandle (Florida Panthers), Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg Jets), David Krejci (Boston Bruins), Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins), Alexander Edler (Vancouver Canucks), Anton Stralman (Florida Panthers), T.J. Oshie (Washington Capitals), Andrej Sekera (Dallas Stars), Tyler Bozak (St. Louis Blues), Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings), Carl Gunnarsson (St. Louis Blues), Devan Dubnyk (San Jose Sharks), Alexander Radulov (Dallas Stars), Derek Ryan (Calgary Flames), Thomas Greiss (Detroit Red Wings), Micheal Haley (Ottawa Senators), and Anton Khudobin (Dallas Stars). Oshie has scored 25 goals per year the last two full seasons, and generally scores around 20 goals per year.
When comparing Ovechkin to players in adjacent draft years (2003 and 2005), there is yet even more contrast. Only 17 players remain from the draft class of 2003: Marc-Andre Fleury, Eric Staal, Ryan Suter, Braydon Coburn, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Brent Burns, Patrice Bergeron, Shea Weber, Brad Richardson, Nate Thompson, Joe Pavelski, Jaroslav Halak, and Brian Elliott. This does not include Loui Eriksson. The 2003 Draft was considered to be one of the best draft classes in NHL history, yet many of the remaining players are playing in reduced roles from their peak.
There are 22 players left from the draft class of 2005: Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins), Bobby Ryan (Ottawa Senators), Jack Johnson (New York Rangers), Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens), Anze Kopitar (Los Angeles Kings), Marc Staal (Detroit Red Wings), Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins), T.J. Oshie, Andrew Cogliano (Dallas Stars), James Neal (Edmonton Oilers), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (San Jose Sharks), Paul Stastny, Kristopher Letang (Pittsburgh Penguins), Kris Russell (Edmonton Oilers), Jonathan Quick, Keith Yandle, Niklas Hjalmarsson (Arizona Coyotes), Darren Helm (Detroit Red Wings), Nathan Gerbe (Columbus Blue Jackets), Ryan Reaves (Vegas Golden Knights), Patric Hornqvist (Florida Panthers), and Anton Stralman.
Crosby is still very productive, with his career point productivity comparable to Ovechkin’s. While Kopitar has not approached his career-high in either goals or total points (which came during the 2017-18 season), he consistently scores 20 goals per season and records around 60 points; Hornqvist still consistently scores 20 goals per year or close to it.
When one looks at his productivity and durability over the 15 full seasons of his career, it is easy to see why Ovechkin’s longevity compared to that of many of the players who came into the league alongside is so impressive. In a league as difficult to endure as the NHL, The Great Eight continues to plow ahead.
Data was obtained from the Quant Hockey and Hockey Reference sites.)
By Diane Doyle