The 2021-22 season is Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin’s 17th season in the National Hockey League (NHL). And even now, at the relatively advanced age (in hockey player terms) of 36, it is still not unreasonable to expect him to score a high number of goals and possibly again be in contention for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for the NHL league lead in goals.
The former first overall pick scored 24 goals during the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season where he missed nine games due to either Covid-19 protocol or injury. This was his 16th consecutive year of topping 20 goals. His goal scoring rate would be prorated to nearly 44 goals over an 82-game season.
Back before the 2020-21 season, Nova Caps examined the productivity and consistency of Ovechkin compared to his peers. This is an updated version of that piece.
Ovechkin’s productivity and 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.
A breakdown is as follows:
Comparison to Other Players Born in 1985
Just 19 other players born in 1985 played in the NHL during 2020-21, out of 141 players born that year who have played in the NHL. Among those 19 players, Travis Zajac, after a season notable for his role being reduced and then being traded, announced his retirement from hockey. Shea Weber, currently with the Montreal Canadiens, will miss the entire 2021-22 season and may no longer be able to play, while Carl Soderberg has signed a contract with a Swedish team for 2021-22; Braydon Coburn is currently an unrestricted free agent.
The remaining 15 players who are expected to be active in 2021-22 are: Ryan Suter (Dallas Stars), Brent Burns (San Jose Sharks), Patrice Bergeron (Boston Bruins), Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks), Corey Perry (Tampa Bay Lightning), Jeff Carter (Pittsburgh Penguins), Paul Stastny (Winnipeg Jets), Loui Eriksson (Arizona Coyotes), Alex Goligoski (Minnesota Wild), Brad Richardson (Calgary Flames), Jay Beagle (Arizona Coyotes), Jaroslav Halak (Vancouver Canucks), Brian Elliott (Philadelphia Flyers), Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (Tampa Bay Lightning), and Carter Hutton (Boston Bruins). Among those players, Brad Richardson and Loui Eriksson had greatly reduced roles in 2020-21. The former played in 17 NHL games, missing numerous games due to injury, while the latter played in just seven NHL games and spent much of the season on the Taxi Squad. It would not be surprising if 2021-22 is the last NHL season for Richardson and Eriksson.
Photo: Getty Images
Ovechkin has played in 1,197 games which ranks a very close second to Sutter, who played in 1,198. Career-wise, Ovechkin overwhelmingly has the most goals with 730. Last season, he had the most goals for a player born in 1985 with 24, despite missing 11 games. Bergeron had 23 goals, Carter and Brown each had 17. No other player born that year topped 10 goals. He also has a commanding lead in total points, with 1,320; the closest player in points for that birth year is Getzlaf with 982. Ovechkin is second in assists with 590, only to Getzlaf, who is a center and centers tend to produce more assists than wingers by virtue of their role.
Comparison to Other Players in 2004 Draft Class
Only 10 other players from Ovechkin’s draft class were active in the NHL during the 2021-22 season: Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins), Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg Jets), Devan Dubnyk (San Jose Sharks), Alexander Radulov (Dallas Stars), 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), and Anton Khudobin (Dallas Stars). Among those players, Krejci decided to return home to the Czech Republic to play in the league there and Dubnyk is an unrestricted free agent who has still not signed a professional contract. As a result, just eight players from the 2004 draft class remain in the NHL for 2021-22.
In comparing player productivity to Ovechkin, Malkin, while not as productive in terms of Goals or Points during his prime, still recorded nearly a point per game in an injury-plagued season. Wheeler had a great season, scoring 15 goals and recording 33 assists for 46 points, four more points than Ovechkin, as Ovechkin missed 11 games. Radulov played in just 11 games in a season plagued by injury.
Comparison to Players From Adjacent Birth Years
When comparing Ovechkin to players born in the years 1984 and 1986, he still compares favorably in productivity. There were just nine NHL players born in 1984, out of the 143 players born that year, who played in the NHL in 2020-21. Among those players, David Backes announced his retirement and Valtteri Filppula signed a contract to play in the Swedish National League.
Because of the above, seven players born in 1984 are still considered to be active NHL players: Eric Staal, Joe Pavelski (Dallas Stars), Dustin Brown (Los Angeles Kings), Zach Parise (New York Islanders), Frans Nielsen, Marc-Andre Fleury (Chicago Blackhawks), and Nate Thompson (Winnipeg Jets). This number may even be lower because Staal and Nielsen are still unrestricted free agents who have not signed contracts for 2021-22.
The most productive players for the 2020-21 season born in 1984 were Pavelski, who had 25 goals, and Brown, who had 17 goals. Parise regularly scored 20 or more goals for most of his career through the 2019-20 season, but his goal scoring dropped greatly in 2020-21 and the Minnesota Wild bought out his contract in the offseason. Pavelski and Brown are the only skaters born in 1984 performing anywhere closer to their peak.
Codie MacLachlan/Dallas Morning News
In comparing Ovechkin’s career statistics with players born in 1984, he has more goals and points than any of them and has most assists than all of them, except for Staal, who has compiled just three more assists. Like Getzlaf, Staal has also played center for most of his career and would compile more assists by virtue of his role.
Of the 138 players in NHL history who were born in 1986, just 19 remained in the NHL for the 2020-21 season. Among those 19, Krejci chose to play back home in the Czech Extra Liga and Carl Gunnarsson announced his retirement after the season, one that ended due to a knee injury.
The remaining 16 players born in 1986 are: Keith Yandle (Philadelphia Flyers), Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg Jets), Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins), Alexander Edler (Los Angeles Kings), Blake Comeau (Dallas Stars), Anton Stralman (Florida Panthers), T.J. Oshie (Washington Capitals), Andrej Sekera (Dallas Stars), Tyler Bozak (St. Louis Blues), Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings), Devan Dubnyk, Alexander Radulov (Dallas Stars), Derek Ryan (Edmonton Oilers), Thomas Greiss (Detroit Red Wings), Micheal Haley, and Anton Khudobin (Dallas Stars). Among those players, Dubnyk and Haley are still free agents who have not signed contracts for 2021-22. Given that Haley just played four game in 2020-21, he is likely finished in the NHL. If Dubnyk does not sign an NHL contract, the number of active players may be down to 15.
Despite being bothered by a knee injury, Malkin is still considered an important player with the Penguins, while Wheeler and Oshie both still score 20 or more goals per year.
Among players born in 1986, Ovechkin has more goals and points than any of them. The only player from that birth year with more assists is Malkin, who has 680 assists and like Getzlaf and Staal, is a center.
Comparison to Players From Adjacent Draft Classes
When comparing Ovechkin to players in adjacent draft years (2003 and 2005), there is yet even more contrast. Only 19 players from the draft class of 2003 played in the NHL in 2020-21: Marc-Andre Fleury, Eric Staal, Ryan Suter, Braydon Coburn, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Brent Burns, Loui Eriksson, Patrice Bergeron, Shea Weber, David Backes, Brad Richardson, Nate Thompson, Joe Pavelski, Jaroslav Halak, and Brian Elliott. Among those players, Backes announced his retirement, Weber will not be able to play during the 2021-22 season, due to injury, and his NHL career may be finished; and as mentioned previously, Staal and Coburn still have not signed NHL contracts for 2021-22, so that number is likely down to 15. 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 were 22 players left from the draft class of 2005 last season: 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), Oshie, Andrew Cogliano (San Jose Sharks), James Neal (Edmonton Oilers), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (San Jose Sharks), Paul Stastny, Kristopher Letang (Pittsburgh Penguins), Kris Russell (Edmonton Oilers), Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings), Keith Yandle (Philadelphia Flyers), Niklas Hjalmarsson (Arizona Coyotes), Darren Helm (Colorado Avalanche), Nathan Gerbe (Columbus Blue Jackets), Ryan Reaves (then of the Vegas Golden Knights, now New York Rangers), Patric Hornqvist (Florida Panthers), and Anton Stralman (Florida Panthers). Among those players, Hjalmarsson announced his retirement, Rask is recovering from surgery and has still not signed a contract for 2021-22 (and is a goaltender). Ryan, Johnson, and Neal are on Player Tryout Contracts for training camp. Several of the other players still active also have reduced roles from their peak.
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 – at least in full, 82-game seasons; Hornqvist still consistently scores between 15-20 goals per year during seasons of normal length.
Photo: Peter Diana/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When one looks at his productivity and durability over the 16 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
Gr8 Endurance: Appreciating Alex Ovechkin’s Longevity Compared to His Peers – Early 2021
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36 Going on “More Legendary”: A Look at Washington Capitals Icon Alex Ovechkin’s Accomplishments Up to Age 36
Alex Ovechkin And Evgeni Malkin: Comrades and Arch-Rivals
Appreciating The Consistency And Longevity of Alex Ovechkin Compared to His Peers