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If he stays on his current goal-scoring pace, Alexander Ovechkin could take the record for the highest number of NHL goals scored in a career. | Wiki­media Commons

Records, even the unbe­lievable ones, are all meant to be broken. 

On Feb. 22, Wash­ington Cap­itals winger Alexander Ovechkin took one more step toward a record many thought was unbreakable. In a 3 – 2 loss to the New Jersey Devils, Ovechkin became just the eighth player in NHL history to score 700 goals in a career. 

Ovechkin is now 194 goals from reaching hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s career record of 894 goals. 

Now, often in sports, accom­pa­nying the achievement of any great mile­stone is the dis­cussion of a player’s overall place in history. There is debate as to whether Ovechkin deserves a place as one of hockey’s rar­ified few, but the numbers tell a very clear story. 

Ovechkin is the most offen­sively-pro­ductive player of our gen­er­ation and will go down as the greatest and most con­sistent scorer of all time.

Ovechkin is unques­tionably scoring goals at a his­toric pace. He entered the league in the 2005 – 2006 season and imme­di­ately demon­strated his scoring prowess, tal­lying 52 goals and 54 assists in 81 games in his rookie cam­paign. Over his 14-year career, he has scored more than 50 goals in a season eight times. His 701 career goals leads all active NHL players — 140 more than San Jose Sharks center Patrick Marleau, who entered the league eight years before Ovechkin. His 0.611 goals per game is 16% higher than any active player. 

Sta­tis­ti­cally, Ovechkin is the most pro­lific scorer of our gen­er­ation. Period.

This begs the question, however: how does he stack up against the one they call “The Great One?” Wayne Gretzky is widely regarded as the greatest hockey player of all time. He holds the career marks for goals (894), assists (1963), and points (2857). While Ovechkin will never approach Gretzky’s marks for assists or points (it’s likely that no one ever will), he is on pace to surpass Gretzky for the most goals in NHL history. 

Gretzky averaged 0.601 goals a game over his 20 year career — .01 of a goal per game behind Ovechkin. From there, the equation is simple: if Ovechkin is able to play another 330 games, or about four seasons, at the same level he is now, the record is his. 

This mark is even more impressive than Gretzky’s given the rel­ative con­di­tions of the league. During Gretzky’s career, the average NHL team scored about 3.50 goals per game, com­pared to 2.85 goals per game during Ovechkin’s career. Not only is Ovechkin on pace to become a more effective scorer than Gretzky himself, but he did it in a league that was less inclined toward offensive pro­duction, making him undoubtedly the greatest scorer in NHL history.

Some crit­icize Ovechkin because this game is often focused on scoring goals. The per­ception sur­rounding the Russian superstar is that the way he plays the game is akin to a sniper — striking with extreme pre­cision and power, but having a dimin­ished impact on the overall flow of the game. The numbers, however, tell a dif­ferent story. While his 570 career assists ranks tenth among active players — over 500 behind Sharks legend Joe Thornton — it is still a ridiculous number given his position. Ovechkin plays on the wing, which means when a team is tran­si­tioning into the offensive zone, it is rare that he con­trols the puck. Most offensive devel­opment flows through the center, which is why the nine active leaders in assists ahead of Ovechkin are all centers. 

He receives crit­icism for his lack of skill as a play­maker, and yet he is also the most effective play­maker in the 21st century from the wing.

Ovechkin isn’t just a scorer. He’s an offensive machine. He ranks third among active players in offensive pro­duction per game with 1.108 points per game, just barely behind Pen­guins greats Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Over his career, he averaged a remarkable 85 points per season, breaking the 100 point barrier four times. Offensive pro­duction leads to wins, and Ovechkin has led his Cap­itals to three President’s Cups and the 2017 – 2018 Stanley Cup title. 

Ovechkin per­forms at a high level, and the success of his team reflects the impor­tance of this con­tri­bution.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Ovechkin’s career is his unbreakable con­sis­tency. He hasn’t played less than 72 games in any season since he entered the league, demon­strating a remarkable toughness. While he entered the NHL in the same season as Malkin and Crosby, he’s played 200 more games than each of them because of his toughness and aversion to injury. He has scored within 13 goals of his per season average every season during his career. By con­trast, in Gretzky’s 20 year career, he averaged 62 goals per season in his prime seven years, but only 20 goals per season in the other 13. 

Sta­tis­ti­cally, it is inevitable that Ovechkin will go down as one of the greatest hockey players of all time. He has the oppor­tunity to become the most pro­lific goal scorer ever. 

Despite the numbers, there are still those who doubt his place in history. Ovechkin may break Gretzky’s record, he may not. Some may con­sider Ovechkin a legend, some may not. Even Gretzky had doubters during his time as the greatest ever. Just like we will never see another Gretzky, we will never see another Ovechkin. 

The best thing to do is sit back and appre­ciate the greatest talent of our gen­er­ation before it is gone.

 

Scott Lowery is a senior studying math­e­matics and eco­nomics.