As each season ends and another one begins since the 2005-2006 season, Alex Ovechkin is showing he's not just a guy who can score 50 goals in a season.
Ovechkin finished in third for points and goals, as well in third for voting for the MVP and Lester B. Person awards in his rookie year in 2006.
Last year, Ovechkin finished in first place in scoring, first in goals and won four awards: Art Ross, Lester B. Person, Rocket Richard, and the MVP leading the Capitals to their first division title since 2001 and playoff berth since 2004.
This season, Ovechkin was off to the worst start in his young career, scoring just two goals and three assists in eight games. Ovechkin knows he's a better player and has proven just that since coming back from Russia. He went on a scoring tear in November, scoring 25 points in 14 games.
Many people still believe that Ovechkin is a one-dimensional player who shoots a lot, is a puck hog, and can only score. Ovechkin has matured a lot since coming into the NHL. This year, he's playing more minutes and is killing penalties.
He's been playing in his zone more as this season has progressed as well too. Fellow team-mate and captain of the Capitals had this to say over Ovechkin's evolution as a player:
"It's the defensive side of him that hockey enthusiasts don't see or pick up on. He's usually the first guy back, stopping where he has to stop in the defensive zone. He's responsible and you can see it now when he's penalty killing a lot, and he's out there at the end of the games where, in the past, if we were winning he might not be in there. He's turned into the best all-around player in the league, not just the best scorer."
-- Chris Clark
Ovechkin has also progressed in his size since coming into the NHL. His first season he weighed 215, last season at 222, and this season he's up to 230. His weight gain hasn't slowed him down, but has made it even harder to knock him off the puck, which has also made him one of the biggest hitters in the NHL.
Right now he's sixth in hits in the NHL with 133, which is a lot for an elite goal scorer. Not many players in the past who have scored 60 or more goals in a season have been in the top ten in hits as well.
The most important aspect of Ovechkin's game that has evolved is his leadership ability. While Sidney Crosby may already have the "C" on his jersey, Ovechkin has been acting captain while current captain Chris Clark has been out of the lineup for the most part in the past season and half.
The longer he's been in the States he's more comfortable speaking English, which has made him a strong leader in the locker-room and on the ice.
"My first couple of years I was running around all the time and it didn't matter if I was going forward or going back," Ovechkin said. "I couldn't read situations. Right now I can read situations, when I have to skate or pass it or relax. I have more experience right now."
This is dead on the money, as Ovechkin now is playing smarter, which could be contributed to having Sergei Fedorov as a mentor.
When Ovechkin first started, he would waste a lot more energy correcting mistakes and running around. Now he leads all forwards in ice time played and has been taking long shifts but isn't getting hooking or slashing penalties because of it.
He's learned to conserve more energy and use it more effectively. His play this season has been a prime example of how much he's grown.
I've stated in a previous article I believe one day Ovechkin could also be a Frank Selke candidate. He has certainly shown big strides in his defensive game over the past year and it's not such a far-fetched idea that in five to seven years, he'll be that great defensively as well as offensively.
Ovechkin is one of the most complete players under the age of 25. He can score better than anyone, make a pass just like the rest, hits like the grittiest, kills penalties, and leads his team by example.
:All Quotes are from NHL.com: