Part two of Luis Felipe Rodrigues’ series on former Soviet/Russian players for the Washington Capitals. Read Part One here.
We were reminded that in 1974, the first year of the Washington Capitals, the Cold War, a dispute between the United States and the Soviet Union, still loomed. The dispute had and impact on hockey as many of the players were born in the old rival power of the USA did and today continue making history in the NHL.
The Capitals have a long history of bringing in players for former Soviet-bloc countries, as well as Russia. In part one we looked at former Capital’s players from those areas. Today we look at current players from Russia and the Czech Republic. Perhaps none have had more of an impact than the Capital’s current captain.
Alexander Ovechkin was born in Moscow, Soviet Russia. His father Mikhail was a soccer player. His mother, Tatyana, a legend of Soviet basketball, won two Olympic gold medals in 1976 (Montreal) and 1980 (Moscow). Ovechkin has loved the sport since childhood and has always stood out. He arrived at the Caps in a troubled times for the NHL and the Capitals.
The Caps had traded Peter Bondra and a few other players as a way to cut costs. The team had finished the 2003-04 season in as the last place of the then Southeast Division and penultimate placed East Conference with 59 points and ahead only of its arch rival Pittsburgh Penguins (of the Atlantic Division) with 58 points. At the Western Conference, Washington was ahead of only the Chicago Blackhawks, who also had 59 points, but the Capitals took the best for more victories, which gave the Capitals the penultimate last place in the league.
The Capitals won the 2004 draft lottery and selected Ovechkin; however, his debut was postponed due to the NHL lockout which canceled the entire 2004-05 season. Ovi has since become a symbol of the Caps franchise, his home country, and sport as one of the greatest scorers playing today. Ovi keeps making history with every passing season. First, he received the Calder Memorial Trophy as the rookie of the league year. He has been selected eight times for the All-Star Game, won the Art Ross Trophy in 2008 (given to the highest scorer in the season) with 112 points, and six times won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy in 2008, 2009, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. He became the player with most goals and points in the franchise history, surpassing Peter Bondra.
Ovechkin currently has 558 goals and 477 assists, totaling 1035 points. In addition, he holds the franchise’s record in: most goals in a season (65 in 2007-08), most goals in a season as a rookie (52 in 2005-06), most power-play goals in a season (24 in 2013-14), most power-play goals in a season as a rookie (21 in 2005-06), most power-play career goals (191 so far), most game-winning career goals (86 so far), plus points in a season as a rookie ) He also recorded the most shots on goal in one season (528 in 2008-09). For the league, Ovi is the player who most scored goals in a season by left winger (65 in 2007-08) and the Russian born who scored most goals in the league, surpassing former Capitals Sergei Fedorov. When playing for Russia, he won three IIHF World Championships (2008, 2012 and 2014).
Born in 1992, Evgeny Kuznetsov is the first and only Russian of the team hitherto born in the country after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. He was picked as the 26th overall by the Capitals in 2010, but he didn’t debut with the team until the 2013-14 season. On April 27, 2015, he scored the game-winning goal over the New York Islanders in Game seven of Round one, which was externalized in fans memory. In 2016, he played the All-Star Game replacing Ovechkin, who suffered an injury. “Kuzy,” as he is called by the fans, is an indispensable player, renewing his contract recently for eight years and will receive a total of $ 63.4 million. He was with Ovehckin on the team which won the gold medal in the IIHF World Championship in 2012 and 2014.
Dmitry Orlov was born in Novokuznetsk, Soviet Union in 1991, the year in which the dissolution occurred. He is the last player to join the Caps who was been born in Soviet Russia. He was drafted by the Capitals as the 55th overall choice in 2009. He was slow to take to the team, sometimes playing for Capitals, sometimes for Hershey Bears, the Capitals affiliate in the AHL. The defenseman joined the team in the 2015-16 season. Recently, just like Kuznetsov, he had his contract renewed and will receive 30.6 million over the next six years.
Jakub Vrana was born in 1996 in the Czech Republic. With the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia emerged. Vrana, who was drafted as the 13th choice in 2013, has already proved to show great promise, slowly gaining space but already has great affection from the fans. He stood out last season in the brief time he was called. He is expected to have a bigger role with the Capitals this year,moving up from the Hershey Bears to play in the NHL
There are many more players waiting in the wings that could join the Caps over the next few years. There is no doubt that Russia and the former Soviet-states continue to influence the game of hockey in the United States.