By Rachel Cohen
On June 26, 2004, the Washington Capitals forever changed the trajectory of their franchise by selecting Russian forward Alex Ovechkin first overall at the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. Ovechkin previously played for Moscow Dynamo of the Russian Super League.
The NHL Draft that year was held in Raleigh, North Carolina. A large contingent of Capitals fans traveled down to RBC Center to witness and cheer on the selection.
Tuesday morning, the NHL celebrated the 14-year anniversary with a tweet. Evgeni Malkin was selected second overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Both players will likely end up being Hall of Famers.
THIS DATE IN 2004: @ovi8 and @emalkin71geno were the first players taken at the #NHLDraft in Raleigh, N.C.
More TDIH: https://t.co/3L0X2PmvDC pic.twitter.com/JYj23KPp1m
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) June 26, 2018
“If you are second, you are second. If you are first, you are first,” a then-18 year old Ovechkin told The Washington Post after the draft. “I always want to be first. My mom and dad always said [whether] you play hockey or football, you always want to be first.”
According to then general manager George McPhee, the team fielded 15 inquiries and received three serious offers for the pick. Ovechkin, heralded by scouts and general managers as the best prospect since Mario Lemieux, was too good of a player to pass up.
“This is my fifth draft, and I haven’t seen any consensus around the number one pick in those five years as I saw with this pick,” Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said. “Time will tell whether this was the right decision, but right now it feels pretty good. When he stood next to me [on stage], I honestly could feel his heart pumping, which is what everyone has been saying about him — his engine runs at higher RPMs.”
A week earlier at the NHL Combine, Ovechkin’s colorful personality and wardrobe (all red outfit) were on full display.
At one point, a North American prospect (who’ll remain nameless) was about to lose his lunch after struggling in the VO2-stationary bike test. Ovechkin was walking by him and said in perfect, unaccented English: “Way to go. Really good.” The poor, weary kid looked puzzled and might well have been thinking that crimson-clad Ovechkin was with the Red Cross.
While the 2004-05 lockout delayed Ovechkin’s NHL debut a year, the Russian machine dazzled when he finally put on a Caps sweater for the first time. Ovechkin scored twice in his first game and finished the season with 52 goals as a rookie, claiming the Calder Trophy.
After that season, Ovechkin, wearing a black Capitol-dome Caps jersey, announced the next first-round pick of the Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom, fourth overall.
14 years, 1,003 regular season games played, 607 goals, 515 assists, 1,122 points, seven Rocket Richard titles, three Hart trophies, countless memorable highlights, a missing tooth, a Conn Smythe Trophy, and a shiny Stanley Cup later, Ovi had cemented himself as the best player in Capitals history.
Ovechkin handed off the Stanley Cup to Backstrom after finally winning a championship.
Headline Photo: Sara Davis
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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