“I think it’s going to create more opportunity for me,” said Ovechkin, who has scored most of his 224 career even-strength goals at left wing. “[Oates] give me some options and I think about it and I said, ‘Yeah, I want to do it.’”
Last season while Oates was an assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils, career left wing Ilya Kovalchuk was moved to the right side to play on the first line with Zach Parise. Kovalchuk scored 23 more points than the previous season and helped lead the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final.
It’s not a direct comparison, but it’s possible Ovechkin enjoys similar success with a new approach.
“We’re going to use him every way we can and try to utilize him,” Oates said. “He’s a force in this league, he’s very important to us and I want to make sure that he knows that I’m going to do my best to let him be successful.”
During the first two days of training camp, Ovechkin lined up at right wing alongside left wing Marcus Johansson and center Nicklas Backstrom.
Backstrom deferred to Ovechkin on how the adjustment will work, or at least preferred to assess things after the Caps start playing games.
“Well, everybody knows Ovi has to be on the left side, come from the left,” Backstrom said. “Maybe it changes the situation a little bit from the other team, how they got to play him and stuff.”
The experiment might not even last until Saturday night’s season opener at the Tampa Bay Lightning. Or it could be a regular thing.
It’s not the first time Ovechkin has lined up at right wing; he spent bits and pieces of time there in recent seasons. But this time there was a concerted effort to try it from the get-go.
“It’s some familiarity with moving back and forth, getting him away from some checking,” general manager George McPhee said. “And it’s also an opportunity for him to be able to pick up pucks in his own end.”
“He’s played his whole career on the other side and the way you circle and come into a zone, just a little bit of a transition getting used to it,” Oates said.
Ovechkin wasn’t playing attention to Kovalchuk last season in New Jersey. But that doesn’t mean he’s unprepared for the switch to right wing.