‘His off years are like anybody’s best year’: NHL stars praise Alex Ovechkin

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‘His off years are like anybody’s best year’: NHL stars praise Ovechkin originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

One thing that often goes unrecognized when discussing Alex Ovechkin—beneath the electric goal scoring, earth-shattering hits, and countless personal accolades—is the insurmountable degree of respect he has garnered from his opponents.

Ahead of Ovechkin’s 17th NHL season, one in which he’ll inch ever closer to Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record, hockey stars from around the league paid homage to perhaps the greatest goal scorer of all time. Canada’s Sportsnet posted a video montage on Twitter of some of No. 8’s greatest moments, threaded with testimonials from some current opponents. Take a look:

“What I think I respect most about him is his happiness,” Mark Scheifele, forward for the Winnipeg Jets, said of the Capitals’ captain. “No matter if he scores, if someone else scores, no matter what, he is the happiest man in the world.”

“He’s always out there with a smile on his face,” Darnell Nurse of the Edmonton Oilers said, echoing Scheifele’s statement. “He works extremely hard, and there’s a lot of power that comes with loving the game and enjoying it when you’re out there.”

It’s true, Ovechkin’s patented smile has endeared him to hockey fans around the world. So much so, in fact, that it helped market his patented breakfast cereal, ‘Ovi O’s.’ The honey nut cereal, sold in boxes with Ovechkin’s grin plastered all over it, has raised over $44,000 for children’s cancer research.

Apart from his smile, the obvious trademark of Ovechkin’s future hall-of-fame career is his goal scoring. At 732 and counting, he is far and away the league’s active leading scorer, but still needs to average 33 goals per season over the next five seasons to overtake Gretzky’s 894.

“His off years are like anybody’s best year, right?” Auston Matthews said. Matthews is no stranger to turning on the red light himself, as he won the Rocket Richard Trophy last season as the league’s leader with 41 over just 52 games. “It’s honestly so impressive, and when you get out there and play against him, it’s really something that I’ve never seen before. I don’t think a lot of people have really seen somebody score at a pace that he’s been able to do. I hope he breaks that record.”

Ovechkin isn’t slowing down at age 36. He scored twice in the third period of Washington’s opening night battle vs. the New York Rangers to tie, then overtake Marcel Dionne for sole possession of fifth place on the all-time goal list.

Ovechkin and the Capitals will look to win their second straight game to start the season Saturday at 7 p.m. as they take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Caps’ home opener. Take in all the action on NBC Sports Washington starting at 6:30 p.m.