The trajectory of the Washington Capitals’ franchise and the popularity of hockey locally changed forever 16 years ago to the day. On June 26, 2004, a Capitals delegation, led by general manager George McPhee, selected 18-year-old Russian Alex Ovechkin with the first overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
The Caps won the right to select Ovi after a dreadful, rebuilding season which saw the team trade away all of its stars including Peter Bondra, Jaromir Jagr, Robert Lang, Sergei Gonchar, and Michal Nylander. Washington won only 23 of 82 games during the 2003-04 season — their worst campaign in 26 years. But it’d end up being worth it. The Capitals, who were the third-worst team in the NHL that year, would leapfrog both the Chicago Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins at the 2004 NHL Draft Lottery and win the first overall pick.
The draft, held at the Carolina Hurricanes’ RBC Center, was the NHL’s last event held before a long lockout, which canceled all games of the 2004-05 season. A raucous group of Capitals fans, including the Caps Road Crew and Sam “The Horn Guy” Wolk, traveled down to Raleigh, North Carolina, to cheer on the historic pick.
“With the first selection in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, the Washington Capitals are pleased to select Alexander Ovechkin,” McPhee said from the podium as Capitals fans could be heard cheering.
A fully-teethed Ovechkin gave a big, long hug to his father Mikhail before embracing his Olympic gold medal-winning mother Tatyana in the stands. Ovechkin gave a big wave to Caps fans before meeting with Capitals officials and putting on a black Capitol Dome jersey.
On stage, Ovechkin shook commissioner Gary Bettman’s hand and then took his draft photo with his arms around Ross Mahoney and owner Ted Leonsis.
The @Capitals drafted the Gr8est goal scorer of the generation 16 years ago today 👏
— MonumentalSportsNet (@MonSportsNet) June 26, 2020
“We’ve had him rated number one for a long time,” Capitals general manager George McPhee said according to ESPN. “We could have done a trade for volume, but none of those players would have been as good as this guy.”
The NHL’s Central Scouting department ranked Ovechkin first among all European Skaters due to his speed, size, and stickhandling.
“I’ve been waiting for this day for maybe two years,” Ovechkin said to the media. “I always want to be playing hockey. It’s what I love. Hockey, hockey, hockey.”
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) June 26, 2020
Evgeni Malkin was selected second overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins while Cam Barker was selected third by Chicago.
During the telecast of the draft, there was both some good and bad analysis of Ovechkin.
“You almost never see him without a big smile on his face. He’s got tons of personality on and off the ice,” TSN’s Bob McKenzie said.
“He’s fundamentally so sound defensively, that a lot of young players that have the offensive talent don’t have that defensive awareness,” Pierre McGuire added. I’m not sure Barry Trotz would agree!
Ovechkin's 706 career goals are already the most in NHL history by a No.1 pick
— Ben Raby (@BenRaby31) June 26, 2020
The Capitals would later draft Mike Green 29th overall.
Ovechkin would go on to lead the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup 14 years later and become one of the greatest goal scorers of all-time, tallying 706 goals in 1,152 games so far. Ovechkin has won nine Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophies as the league’s leading goal scorer. In addition to his nine Rockets, Ovechkin has won a Stanley Cup, a Conn Smythe Trophy, a Calder Trophy, an Art Ross Trophy, three Hart Memorial Trophies, and three Ted Lindsay Awards. He is the only player in NHL history to win a Stanley Cup, a Conn Smythe, a Calder, an Art Ross, a Hart, a Ted Lindsay, and a Maurice Richard Trophy.
Ovechkin has also made hockey more popular in this area. According to USA Hockey, youth hockey player participation has jumped 221% since Alex Ovechkin was drafted.
So in conclusion, that draft pick was not suck.
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