‘Worth the price of admission’: Ovechkin made presence felt in NHL debut

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GR8NESS: OVI’S CHASE FOR 700: As Alex Ovechkin approaches 700 career NHL goals, PHT is going to examine all aspects of his goal-scoring prowess. We’ll break down and provide context for his amazing stats, project if he can top Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894, and take a look at his most important goals.

It was puck watching at its finest. Alex Ovechkin’s first NHL goal came due to an incredibly bad defensive breakdown by the Blue Jackets.

As Dainius Zubrus skated toward the corner, four Blue Jackets were caught watching the puck, all while the Capitals rookie phenom waited between the circles. What happened next was goal No. 1 by a future Hall of Famer.

The debut of a ‘special player’

Oct. 5, 2005 was an historic night for the NHL. All 30 teams played on the same day for the first time in league history, a big way to return after the season-long 2004-05 lockout. Ovechkin made his debut for the Capitals and we saw the first ever regular season shootout when the Senators beat the Maple Leafs 3-2.

For Blue Jackets goaltender Pascal Leclaire, that night was meaningful as well. It was the first time in his young professional career that he began the season in the NHL. The No. 8 overall pick in the 2001 draft spent parts of three seasons with AHL Syracuse. He made two starts in Columbus in 2003-04 but earned a bigger workload in 2005-06 as he shared the net with Marc Denis.

The scouting report the Blue Jackets had on Ovechkin was that he was an explosive player, one to certainly keep an eye on. But as Leclaire told Sportsnet in 2017, hev was focusing more on his own game and they weren’t expected for the Russian rookie to make his presence felt that soon into the start of his career.

“I think right off the bat you could see he was a special player,” Leclaire told The Washington Post in 2016. “For me, I’m not surprised at all that he’s had the career he’s having so far. It just made sense. Special players are special players and you can see it pretty early on how good they are.”

[MORE: Ovechkin’s chase for 700 continues vs. Avs Thursday on NBCSN]

The memorable first shift

While the offensive side would show itself later, Ovechkin first NHL shift gave us a glimpse into the physical presence he possessed.

A Rick Nash shot caromed around the boards and deep into the Blue Jackets’ zone 30 seconds into the game. Ovechkin saw he could potentially win the puck so he began sprinting from his own blue line to beat Radoslav Suchy. The Columbus defenseman had possession for about two seconds before the Capitals rookie laid a big hit, knocking loose a stanchion behind the net.

Not done yet

It took Ovechkin 441 seconds to record his first NHL goal. We didn’t have to wait long for No. 2 as 270 later he delivered the first of his 259 power play goals.

“He was worth the price of admission tonight,” said Blue Jackets head coach Gerard Gallant afterward. “He was real good.”

Now here we are — fifteen years and 696 goals later. Ovechkin is on the cusp of history and a legitimate threat to break Wayne Gretzky’s NHL goals record of 894. He’s reached 50 goals eight times (this season will more than likely be the ninth), hit 60 once, and the fewest goals he scored in one season was 32, which he reached twice, including during the lockout-shortened 48-game 2013 campaign.

Oct. 5, 2005 was the beginning of something special. Ovechkin has his Stanley Cup, his Richard Trophies, his Harts. No. 895 is possible as he rises to the occasion.

“He’s pretty well been groomed for this,” said Capitals head coach Glen Hanlon via the Washington Times in 2005. “The bigger the moment, the bigger he’s going to play.

“He thrives on it — as all the great ones do.”

MORE OVECHKIN:
By the Numbers: Ovechkin’s 698 NHL goals
Stunning Numbers as Alex Ovechkin closes in on 700 goals

My Favorite Goal: Ovechkin scores ‘The Goal’ as a rookie in 2006
NHL Power Rankings: Ovechkin’s top 10 goals
Can Alex Ovechkin break Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 goals?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.