The NHL 700-goal club is ready to welcome Alex Ovechkin with open arms.But its members said they do not expect the Washington Capitals forward to be satisfied when he joins them. They suspect he’ll move on quickly — and past most of them — in pursuit of Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record of 894 goals.
Ovechkin heads into the Capitals’ game against the Los Angeles Kings at Capital One Arena on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSWA, FS-W, NHL.TV) with 695 goals in 15 NHL seasons. With five more, he’ll become the eighth member of the 700-goal club, joining Gretzky, Gordie Howe (801), Jaromir Jagr (766), Brett Hull (741), Marcel Dionne (731), Phil Esposito (717) and Mike Gartner (708).
“Anyone who joins that club, obviously, has done something special,” Hull said.
Before being held without a point in a 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday, Ovechkin scored 11 times during a five-game goal streak to move past Hockey Hall of Famers Teemu Selanne (684 goals), Mario Lemieux (690), Steve Yzerman (692) and Mark Messier (694) up to eighth in NHL history. The 34-year-old native of Moscow, Russia, appreciates that he’s on the verge of entering rarified air.
“Obviously, lots of legends up there,” Ovechkin said.
Video: WSH@OTT: Ovechkin scores twice to pass Messier
NHL.com talked with each of the six living 700-goal scorers, all members of the Hockey Hall of Fame except Jagr, who continues to play professionally in the Czech Republic at 47 years old, as well as Mark Howe, a Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman and son of Gordie, who died in 2016.
The consensus is that 700 will be just a pitstop for Ovechkin.
“Well, he’s going to get to 800, there’s no doubt in my mind, as long as he’s not hurt or anything like that,” Dionne said. “One day, it could stop, but I don’t see how. He’s got tremendous energy and he’s fun to watch.”
At the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game in St. Louis last month, Gretzky said Ovechkin has “a real legitimate chance” to break his record. The other members of the 700-goal club agree.
“Wayne Gretzky, just by the sheer numbers, is the greatest goal-scorer ever,” Gartner said. “He scored 894 goals, so you still have to say that he is the greatest goal-scorer. But if anybody could do it, Alex could do it.”
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The No. 1 pick in the 2004 NHL Draft, Ovechkin took the League by storm as a rookie in 2005-06, scoring 52 goals for the first of his eight 50-goal seasons. He trails David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins by one goal for the NHL lead this season with 37 and is on pace to finish with 57.
A ninth 50-goal season would tie Gretzky and Mike Bossy for the most in NHL history.
If Ovechkin wins the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for leading the NHL in goals this season, it would be the ninth time in his career. Hull’s father, Bobby Hull, is the only other player to lead the League in goals as many as seven times.
“What is the most impressive for me is that Ovechkin has won eight Maurice Richard trophies, which is just surreal,” said Jagr, who scored his 700th goal while playing for the New Jersey Devils on March 1, 2014, the most recent to join the club. “I cannot imagine someone else could ever do that in the future.”
Video: WPG@WSH: Ovi buries rebound for 600th NHL goal
Ovechkin also could become the second-oldest player with a 50-goal season in the NHL, behind Johnny Bucyk — who scored 51 for the Boston Bruins in 1970-71 when he was 35 — and join Esposito as the only players with three 50-goal seasons at age 30 or older.
“If you put Ovechkin in my era, I don’t know what his numbers might be. I couldn’t even guess,” Esposito said. “All I know is, he could play in any era.”
Ovechkin (6-foot-3, 236 pounds) has always played with a physical edge, as evidenced by his 2,984 career hits, third most in the NHL over that span behind Dustin Brown’s 3,419 and Cal Clutterbuck’s 3,131. Yet, he’s been remarkably durable.
Ovechkin has missed 31 games in his career, 17 because of injury, and missed more than four in a season once, when he scored 50 goals in 72 games in 2009-10.
Ovechkin is on his way to leading the NHL in shots on goal for the 12th time; his 244 in 52 games are eight more than Vegas Golden Knights forward Max Pacioretty has in 54. He’s never had fewer than 303 shots on goal in a full season and has topped 400 three times, including 528 in 2008-09, when he scored 56 goals.
“He’s a great shooter,” said Gartner, who played 19 NHL seasons before retiring in 1998. “He’s got an extremely hard shot, an extremely accurate shot and an extremely quick shot. A lot of times a shooter may have one, maybe two of those things going for you. He has all three of them, and that’s a very unique package of skills that he brings to the table.”
Video: NSH@WSH: Ovechkin passes Yzerman on NHL goals list
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Mark Howe, a longtime scout for the Detroit Red Wings, remembers bringing his dad along a few times to watch the Capitals. Like many, Mr. Hockey was drawn to Ovechkin.
“He admired the way that [Ovechkin] played,” Howe said. “He was big and powerful, and anybody recognizes what an awesome shot he has. Something that really stood out is Alex has a real passion for scoring goals. Not everybody has that passion. There’s guys that want to score. He loves to score goals. And the other part is he tries to embrace the crowd with it.
“I know Dad always felt that it’s important for players to give back, and I think he felt that Alex did that.”
The Howes aren’t the only ones who have noticed Ovechkin’s love of scoring. It’s hard to miss.
A combination of pumping arms, a scream of delight and a flash of his gap-toothed smile, sometimes capped with a leap into the glass, usually follows the puck going into the net.
“I love watching him score because he gets so [darned] excited about it,” Esposito said. “I just love it. I can’t stand when a guy takes scoring a goal for granted. … Not Ovechkin. Guess what? Every goal that he’s scored, nearly 700 times, he’s almost jumped over the glass.”
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Nicklas Backstrom has had an assist on 259 of Ovechkin’s 695 goals. That’s the fourth-most assists on a teammate’s goals behind Gretzky’s 364 on Jari Kurri’s 601, Bryan Trottier’s 310 on Bossy’s 573, and Henrik Sedin’s 280 on brother Daniel Sedin’s 393.
“It’s always nice to have a great playmaker with you as a goal-scorer,” said Hull, who played with a few, most notably Gretzky and Adam Oates, over his 19 NHL seasons. “I’m a big fan of Backstrom. If you don’t get the puck, you can’t score.”
Ovechkin rarely has had to worry about that, playing with Backstrom and sometimes Evgeny Kuznetsov at center on his line for most of his career. That should continue, with Backstrom signing a five-year contract with the Capitals on Jan. 14 that ends after the 2024-25 season and Kuznetsov also signed through that season.
“We all see where he gets in that open area,” Gretzky said of Ovechkin’s spot in the left face-off circle. “Everybody knows the puck’s going there. Somehow it finds its way there, and he doesn’t miss. They work well together, they play unselfishly, and Backstrom knows that he’s the playmaker and Ovi’s the goal-scorer.”
Video: WSH@NYI: Ovi scores to tie Lemieux on all-time list
Dionne, who played 18 NHL seasons before retiring in 1989, said it also helps to play with a skilled, puck-moving defenseman. Gretzky had Paul Coffey with the Edmonton Oilers. Ovechkin has John Carlson, who leads NHL defensemen with 62 points (13 goals, 49 assists) this season.
“I never had that defenseman, the playmakers and all that stuff,” Dionne said. “So you have work twice as hard to get the puck.”
Jagr, who last played in the NHL with the Calgary Flames in 2017-18, marveled at Ovechkin’s ability to adapt as he’s aged. Although Ovechkin remains lethal with his one-timer from the left circle on the power play, he doesn’t score as many rush goals as earlier in his career. He’s made up for that some by going to the net more to score on rebounds and deflections.
Ovechkin also changed his offseason training regimen to focus more on quickness and power after he dipped to 33 goals in 2016-17, his second-lowest total in a full season after his 32-goal season in 2010-11. He rebounded to score 49 goals in 2017-18 and 51 last season.
“It does not matter which kind of hockey was there 10 years ago and which hockey is there now, he has been able to adjust,” Jagr said. “Even I was surprised how he did it. I did not believe he would be so dominant. He’s had some period of time when I thought he would be slowly going down, and all of a sudden there was some turn, and he started to get back up.”
Video: WSH@VGK, Gm5: Capitals celebrate first Stanley Cup
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Trailing Gretzky by 199 goals, Ovechkin has work to do, but what once seemed impossible no longer does.
“When I scored 76 (in 1970-71), they said, ‘Nobody is going to score more than that,'” Esposito said. “Well, a decade later, Wayne didn’t just break it, he smashed it (92 goals in 1981-82). Records are made to be broken. Period.”
Ovechkin is on pace to go from 600 to 700 goals in 154 games, which would be the fewest of anyone in the 700-goal club and his second-fewest games to get from one 100-goal milestone to another (130 games from 100 to 200). He might not be able to maintain that pace into his late 30s, but with each goal, it feels more likely he’ll get to Gretzky’s record.
“If he wants to keep playing, if he stays healthy and things, I don’t see why not,” Hull said. “And Wayne would be the first guy to tell you that he’d be the first guy to shake his hand if he did.”
Mark Howe remembers his parents following Gretzky from city to city until he broke his father’s record by scoring his 802nd goal while playing for the Los Angeles Kings on March 23, 1994. Like Gretzky, Mark Howe believes following Ovechkin through a chase like that would be fun.
“I know it’s a difficult thing,” Howe said of breaking Gretzky’s record. “You look at some of the numbers that Connor McDavid’s putting up, but it’s very few and far between. When you get a guy like [Ovechkin], kudos to the people that buy Caps tickets and go to every game because they get to witness it every night. They’re pretty fortunate.”
Ovechkin said last season he wants to try to break Gretzky’s record. The 700-goal club is looking forward to watching.
“He’s 34 years old, right?” Dionne asked. “He’ll play to 40, for sure, no injuries. I don’t see a slowdown. … He cannot afford to have a 25-goal season. But you know what? Make it interesting, that’s all I can say. It’s fun.”
NHL.com columnist Dave Stubbs and NHL.com/cs senior independent correspondent Michael Langr contributed to this report