The 2004 NHL Entry Draft was the first draft where the first two players selected were from Russia. The players were Alexander Ovechkin, whom the Washington Capitals drafted with the first overall pick, and Evgeni Malkin, who the Pittsburgh Penguins drafted with the second overall pick in the draft.
The two players grew up as stars, but in separate cities in Russia, with Ovechkin growing up in Moscow, playing in the Dynamo Moscow system, and Malkin growing up in Magnitogorsk, playing in the Metallurg Magnitogorsk system. However, prior to the draft they were teammates on several occasions during Russian International competition, including:
- Team Russia Under 18 World Championships during the 2002-03 season – Ovechkin was 17 and Malkin was 16. The team won the Bronze Medal for Russia.
- IIHF Ice Hockey Under 20 World Championships (AKA World Juniors) during the 2003-04 season – Ovechkin was 18 and Malkin was 17. The team also included another player, Alexander Semin, who would later be an NHL teammate of Ovechkin’s.
Then came the NHL Draft of 2004. The players were drafted by teams that had been arch-rivals of one another back in the 1990’s, but both teams had fallen on hard teams in recent years. Pittsburgh finished dead last in the NHL during the 2003-04 season and it was their third consecutive last place finish in the Atlantic Division.
The Capitals earlier that year had gotten off to a terrible start so management decided it was time to rebuild. They traded their aging veterans for picks and prospects. This resulted in the Capitals falling to the bottom of the Southeast Division, just one point ahead of Pittsburgh and tied with the Chicago Blackhawks in points. The Capitals ended up winning the draft lottery and chose Ovechkin first. Had they not won the draft lottery, they would have chosen third overall.
Due to the fact there was an NHL lockout for the 2004-05 season, they continued playing on their teams in Russia and were teammates on two more occasions.
- IIHF Ice Hockey Under 20 World Championships (AKA World Juniors) during the 2004-05 season – Ovechkin was 18 and Malkin was 17. That team won the Silver Medal for Russian, losing to Canada in the Final.
- IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships in 2005 where Russia earned the Bronze Medal. Also on that team were Ovechkin’s future Capitals teammates: Alexander Semin, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Viktor Kozlov.
During 2005-06 Ovechkin came over to the USA to play for the Washington Capitals while Malkin remained in Russia to continue with Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Thus, the rivalry between Ovechkin and Malkin would be deferred for another year.
They would be teammates and represent Russia internationally twice during 2005-06, including the Olympics.
- 2006 Olympic games where Russia lost the Bronze Medal game. Future teammates for Ovechkin, Viktor Kozlov and Ilya Kovalchuk, were also part of the Russian Olympic team. Former Capital and Malkin’s future teammate on the Penguins, Sergei Gonchar, was also part of team Russia. Ovechkin and Malkin even roomed together during those Olympic games.
- IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships in 2006. Alexander Semin was once again their teammate.
The rivalry began in earnest in 2006-07 when Malkin finally came over to America to join the Penguins. That year, helped by the arrival of Malkin and of fellow rookie, Jordan Staal, the Penguins finished second in the division and vaulted into the playoffs, putting their recent years of ineptitude behind them. Malkin himself won the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year for 2006-07. The Capitals, meanwhile, were still not a good team and finished last in their division.
The two rivals were once again teammates, representing Russia when the season finished.
- IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships in 2006 where Russia won Bronze. Kovalchuk and Gonchar were also on the team.
In 2007-08, the Capitals conducted a late season run to finally make the playoffs but were eliminated in the first round. Ovechkin led the NHL in goals with 65 and in points with 112, and was awarded the Rocket Richard Trophy for the most goals, the Art Ross Trophy for most points, the Hart Trophy for Most Valuable Player, and the Lester Pearson Trophy.
Photo: Claus Andersen/Getty Images
Malkin also had a great season. He was fourth in goals with 47 and second in points with 106. They were the only two players who recorded 100 points or more. The Penguins improved over the prior season and advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals, falling to the Detroit Red Wings.
The rivalry between the Capitals and Penguins grew more intense during the 2008-09 season. There were reports in both the Canadian press and in the Russian press about problems between Ovechkin and Malkin. This included reports that Ovechkin had gotten into a fight with Malkin’s agent, Gennady Ushakov, in a nightclub.
Many times, the two players would issue hits to one another when their teams played each other, with the physical contact getting dissected on a frame by frame basis. Russian hockey officials were even worried about whether the relationship between their two greatest stars would affect the team on the ice in the upcoming Vancouver Olympic games.
The Capitals and Penguins met in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2009, with Pittsburgh beating Washington in seven games. The Penguins advanced to the Stanley Cup Final and beat the Detroit Red Wings. Malkin won the Conn Smythe. For individual statistics, Malkin led the NHL in points with 113, winning the Art Ross trophy, with Ovechkin second with 110 and Sidney Crosby third with 103. They were the only players to record more than 100 points.
Ovechkin led the league in goals, winning the Rocket Richard trophy again. Malkin led the NHL in assists with 78 and Crosby was second with 70. Ovechkin won the Hart Trophy for MVP with Malkin ranking second. Ovechkin also won the Lester Pearson Trophy for Outstanding Player. Malkin was also a finalist for the Pearson Trophy.
In 2009-10, the regular season rivalry between their teams persisted but they were teammates for Russia again, in both the Olympics and in the World Championships, the latter because the Montreal Canadiens had upset both the Caps and the Penguins in the playoffs that season. Ovechkin won the Ted Lindsay Trophy, formerly known as the Lester Pearson Trophy for Outstanding Player. Ovechkin was second in both goals and points. Malkin missed time due to injury so he was not among the league leaders.
Photo: Steve Marcus/Reuters
The ensuing years included more trophies and playoff heroics. Ovechkin won more Rocket Richard trophies for most goals with a total of nine Rocket Richard trophies when the 2019-20 season ended.
Malkin led the league in points in 2011-12, winning the Art Ross Trophy, Ted Lindsay Trophy and the Hart Trophy for that season. Malkin was part of two more Stanley Cup winning teams in 2015-16 and 2016-17. Ovechkin finally won the Stanley Cup in 2017-18 and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
The duo played together internationally in several more tournaments:
- IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships in 2012 where they won Gold. Future Capital Evgeny Kuznetsov was also on the team, along with Semin and former Capitals goaltender, Semyon Varlamov.
- IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships in 2013
- 2014 Olympic games where they were eliminated in the quarter-finals. Semin and Varlamov were also on the team.
- IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships in 2014 which also included Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov where they won Gold.
- IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships in 2015 which also included Kovalchuk where they won Silver.
- World Cup team in 2016 which also included Kovalchuk, Kuznetsov, and Orlov where they won Bronze. Malkin even hosted Ovechkin and other Russians at his home for a get together.
- IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships in 2015 which also included Kovalchuk, Kuznetsov, and Orlov where they won Bronze.
Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
After 16 seasons for Ovechkin and 15 seasons for Malkin, the two players are among the leaders in many major statistics, highlighting the fact that they are among the top players in their generation.
They both rank in the Top 5 in points among active players. The other three top point producers are Joe Thornton (1529), Sidney Crosby (1325), and Patrick Marleau (1197). Ovechkin currently has 1320 points and Malkin has 1104 points. Thornton and Marleau both had a seven year head start in their careers over Ovechkin and an eight year head start compared to Malkin.
Among active players, Ovechkin ranks first in goals with 730 goals and Malkin ranks seventh with 424. Malkin ranks sixth in assists with 680 and Ovechkin ranks 11th with 590.
Among Russian players, Ovechkin ranks first in career points (1320) and Malkin ranks third (1104). Sergei Fedorov currently ranks second in points with 1179. Malkin will likely pass him before his career ends.
For goals, Ovechkin ranks first in goals and Malkin ranks seventh. Sergei Fedorov ranks second with 483, which is only 59 more than Malkin.
In assists, Malkin ranks second, only to Sergei Fedorov, who had 696. Malkin needs only 16 assists to catch up to Fedorov. Ovechkin currently ranks in seventh place. He would need only 31 assists to pass Sergei Zubov, who currently ranks third. There is a good chance that Ovechkin and Malkin will rank as the top two Russians for goals, assists, and points before their careers are over. At the present time, they are the only two Russians with lengthy careers who have spent their entire careers with a single team.
The 2004 NHL Entry Draft was certainly historic. The two Russians drafted at the top of that draft are two of the best players of this generation and could also be regarded as the two best Russians who ever played hockey.
By Diane Doyle
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World Cup of Hockey — Meet Team Russia
Sports Illustrated: Freeze Out — Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin Friendship Grows Cold
Sports Ru: Story of Relationship Between Ovechkin and Malkin
Spokesman: 2004 Top Two Picks Were Russians
Statistics from NHL.com, Hockey Reference.com, and Quanthockey.com