Approaching 500 Assists, Alex Ovechkin Remains an Underrated Passer

Posted January 16, 2018

(Caps Outsider)

Alex Ovechkin has made a career of beating goaltenders with a virtually unbeatable shot. But as he powers on through yet another season where he leads the National Hockey League in goals, he is approaching another impressive milestone that is overshadowed by his unmatched scoring prowess.

When John Carlson found the net on a wacky sort of goal on Tuesday night against the Vancouver Canucks, Ovechkin recorded his 19th assist of the 2017-18 season.  Then he got two more against Carolina, giving him 498 for his career, just two away from the half-century mark.

Unlike his status as one of the top goal scorers in NHL history, there is a long list of players who have long surpassed the 500 assist mark that Ovechkin is about to hit. However, reaching this career milestone will come to represent a side of the Russian superstar’s game that very few will give any kind of credit to.

Over the first six seasons of his career, Ovechkin surpassed 50 assists five times. In four of those same seasons, he scored 50 or more goals. Simply put, he was as dynamic of a player as the league had ever seen.

Since then, Ovechkin’s goal totals have been up and down, but by and large have been on a slow decline as expected as he entered his 30’s. His assists, however, took a severe blow starting during the 2011-12 campaign – a trend that has recently continued. Strangely, Ovechkin’s 33 goals last season turned out to be one of the worst scoring outputs of his career, but he also posted 36 assists which marked the first time in six seasons where he posted more helpers than goals.

The fact that Ovechkin is closing in on 500 assists might not surprise most fans, but many will not even give that number a second thought. Many will not use that mark – when he gets there – to reflect on a very much under-appreciated aspect of his game.

For the sake of time, I pinpointed one game this year where Ovechkin’s passing skills shined above all as a way of showing what many Capitals fans have seen for years that every hockey fan should re-live.

On December 6th, at home on national television against the Chicago Blackhawks, Nicklas Backstrom opened the scoring. But what made this play was a downright filthy touch pass from Ovechkin.

Ovechkin, on the goal line and under pressure from one defenseman, made a quick, one touch pass that hardly looks like it touched the ice to Backstrom in front for an easy goal. I could probably count on two hands the number of players that could make that pass in that situation.

Moving on to Ovechkin’s third assist of the night. This one might be more impressive to some because it clearly highlights the incredible vision that he possesses and pinpoint accuracy that he can put on his passes through impossibly tight windows.

On this play, Ovechkin receives the puck behind the net and patiently waits for Evgeny Kuznetsov to move towards the slot. Credit is due to Kuznetsov for burying this shot and finding the open area, but Ovechkin virtually beats four Blackhawks with this pass, each of whom knew exactly where the puck was going on this play. Each of these two highlight reel assists represent different situations, but both go to show that he can dictate individual games with his passing ability and not just his shot.

While Alex Ovechkin – who just so happens to be on pace for another 50 goal season – will always be remembered for his game-breaking scoring ability, it is important that as he closes in on becoming the second Washington Capital in history to reach the 500 assist mark, we recognize the side of his game that will be overlooked when his days as a player are over.