The Other One

Washington Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin is a right-hand shooting, left-winger from Moscow,...

Washington Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin is a right-hand shooting, left-winger from Moscow, who's a rocketing new talent in the NHL. (Toronto Sun File Photo/Mark O'Neill)

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:35 PM ET

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Let me explain the way Alexander Ovechkin's mind works.

The Washington Capitals super rookie is reading a book but he doesn't quite have the English skills to describe what it's about.

Turn your left palm toward you and put it at eye level, fingers up. Now put your right hand against your left, finger on finger, pointing to the left thumb. Open your fingers.

"It's about a guy who kills people," Ovechkin said, "about life, ah, what's the word ...?"

"In prison?"

"Yes. Prison."

Look at your fingers again.

Bars.

In the trade, they call that imagination.

Ovechkin, a right-hand shooting left-winger from Moscow, is a rocketing new talent in the NHL.

He has every skill imaginable, none more pronounced than the true goal-scorer's sense of what's possible and what can be made that way. Imagination.

He has scored on breakaways, rebounds, tip-ins. He shoots from everywhere.

"In my 25 years of scouting, he's the best player I ever scouted," said Rick Dudley, the Chicago Blackhawks director of player personnel.

CALDER TROPHY

Ovechkin already is deeply immersed in a duel with Sidney Crosby for the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie. Ovechkin and Crosby are the only two rookies who lead their teams in points.

While Crosby has garnered immense attention, Ovechkin, the first overall choice in the 2004 draft, has been exactly as advertised. He has scored six goals in 10 games this season. The rest of the team has 16. Going into last night's contest against the Buffalo Sabres, he was one of only three players on the Caps with a plus rating.

"He's fearless, he can hit and can really skate," Caps coach Glen Hanlon said. "I mean really, really skate."

Ovechkin and Crosby are more than suitors for the Calder, of course. The phenomenon of two NHL-ready first overalls hitting the league on the same day is another product of the league's labour meltdown. As such, Crosby and Ovechkin will share the same marquee for a decade or more.

RICH RIVALRY

In a perfect world, they will morph into hockey versions of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, singular talents whose rich rivalry and contrasting styles fuel a revival of their sport. Hey, I said perfect.

Crosby, of course, is Canadian, a gifted scorer and a better play-maker. Ovechkin is more goalscorer, a gamebreaker rather than a game controller.

Crosby is serious. He gives Gretzky-esque answers and it is obvious to him and to anyone who watches him that he is altogether ready to accept the weighty mantle of The Next One.

Ovechkin is The Other One, a brilliant new star occupying a hockey outpost. Crosby may or may not be a better player. With his broken English, looping grin and incandescent zeal, Ovechkin would be more fun on a road trip.

"He's a fun-loving guy," Caps goalie Olaf Kolzig said. "He provides a lot of enthusiasm in our dressing room."

When the Caps suggested he might be comfortable rooming with Dainius Zubrus, a Lithuanian who could communicate in Russian, Ovechkin said no. He wanted someone from whom he could learn English.

Russian players began arriving here a generation ago. They have brought the full range of personalities but as a group, in the public eye, often have seemed joyless. The official adjective of the Russian hockey player is enigmatic and while the men themselves have ranged from the urbane Alexander Mogilny to the regal Slava Fetisov, the hockey world hasn't seen many giddy Russian hockey players.

Until now.

Someday, he will learn the hidebound cliches. But for now, Ovechkin just tells the truth. His antidote to a slump: Change everything.

"I'm thinking I go to locker room and do something different. Go to bicycle, go to gym, do something more. You see it will pay," he said. "That's how you change things. Do more."

The one element in which Ovechkin seems to have a clear-cut advantage over Crosby is charisma.

"In one sense, we're glad someone like yourself, from Toronto, is here. But the fact of the matter is there ought to be 20 people from Ontario here," Hanlon said. "He's that good and that good a person."

Even if he is reading a gruesome prison novel.

"It's terrible," Ovechkin said, grinning. "But I like it."


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