CHICAGO — Alex Ovechkin doesn’t think he’s any lighter going into his 14th NHL training camp.
“The same 260,” he said.
That might be a slight exaggeration for a player listed at 235 pounds, though the Washington Capitals captain worked to be leaner and quicker. When the season starts, he’ll be 34.
Keeping Pace with Faster League
He’s made a concerted effort with different summer training to keep up with the ever-quickening pace of the league while remaining undecided about his long-term future.
“The game is getting faster, so you have to get ready for more speed in the game and don’t try to lift too much weight and just be quicker,” Ovechkin said.
The Russian superstar who was named playoff MVP in 2018 for leading the Capitals to the Stanley Cup plays more like a freight train than a Porsche. His physicality makes him stand out in the modern NHL trending toward speed and skill and has helped make him the best goal-scorer of this generation.
Chasing Gretzky’s Record
Ovechkin’s 658 goals put him 12th on the all-time list, and there’s still speculation he could catch Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 if he keeps producing at his now typical level. It could take Ovechkin playing until he’s 40 to even approach Gretzky, and he’s not ready to commit to anything beyond the two years left on his current contract.
“After two years, let’s talk,” Ovechkin said Friday at the annual NHL/NHLPA preseason player media tour. “We’ll see what’s gonna happen in two years. Of course, I want to play till I can’t play.”
Ovechkin is showing no signs of slowing down. He scored 51 goals last season and was the oldest to eclipse the 50-goal mark since Phil Esposito in 1974-75.
He and the Capitals could agree to a contract extension as soon as July 1, the same situation they’re in with longtime running mate Nicklas Backstrom and goaltender Braden Holtby. If that’s on his mind, Ovechkin isn’t showing it.
“I’m not close to that,” he said.
Ovechkin could go the way of countrymen Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk and go home to play in the KHL once this contract is up. Or he could be like San Jose’s Joe Thornton and go year to year based on how he’s feeling.
“I don’t want to be the guy who go out there and just like play (like) a joke,” Ovechkin said. “If I’m gonna be in the same level, yeah.”
If Ovechkin maintains this level, 894 isn’t out of the question. If he keeps up his trademark durability, he’ll surpass 700 goals this season and isn’t ruling out taking a shot at Gretzky.
“It’s always a chance,” he said. “I have to play the same way, I have to do the same thing, I have to use my chances and we will see.”
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Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press