- The Washington Times - Friday, September 2, 2005

He was nervous, which came as no surprise. And he had some difficulty with the language, also not a shock. But more than anything, Alexander Ovechkin wanted to know when he could get out on the ice.

The 19-year-old Russian wunderkind, newly enriched by the Washington Capitals, had no trouble at an MCI Center press conference yesterday, answering everything thrown his way and easily shifting between his own answers or utilizing a young interpreter.

Was he going out to buy the expensive sports car he had dreamed of now that he had some money?

“Right now I want to buy a house, because a car is a car but a house is a house,” he said. “Maybe next season I buy a car.”

Obviously, in less than 24 hours he has gained an accurate picture of the local real estate market and how quickly it could gobble up a rookie’s salary.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound left wing was paying his first visit to Washington, which picked him first overall in the 2004 NHL draft. He received the honor after electrifying scouts since he first appeared in men’s leagues as a 15-year-old in Russia, where youthful participation is usually frowned upon. He signed a three-year contract with the Caps that will pay him almost $1.3 million annually, with another $2.6 million in incentives available.

He is joining a very young team that is being built around him, a team that probably will struggle for years before it is fully competitive in the NHL. This is a fact he is aware of.

“If you play hockey, I want to win,” he quickly answered, chopping off his interpreter, when asked if he realized the difficulties immediately ahead. “Always, sportsmen want to win game. We’re a young team and not good, not as mature …” Here he struggled with English words until his aide finished the thought for him, “but our passion will prevail as to win.”

Said Don Meehan, one of the top agents in the business and Ovechkin’s representative for almost three years: “His entire focus is hockey. His questions are relentless: ‘When do we start? Who do you think I’ll be playing with? When do I meet the coach? When do I skate? When do I get equipment? How does the new CBA work? What are the new rules? What will our team be like?’

“It’s all about hockey,” the Toronto-based agent said. “He wants to assimilate himself as quickly because he believes he can’t really be effective until he does that. He never asks if there’s a Russian community here, anything like that. He wants to know what he can do to help grow the game, meet the fans, anything. That’s refreshing to me after being in this business for a long time, and he’s legitimate, trust me.”

Ovechkin already had achieved stardom in his native country — he doesn’t turn 20 until Sept. 17 — and walked away from guaranteed financial riches to follow his dream of playing in the NHL.

“NHL was my dream when I was very young,” he said, holding his left hand down by his knee to show about how tall he stood when he knew what he wanted to do with his life. “I love NHL. I wanted to play there with these superstar players.”

Again he struggled with the language until one name became clear: “Lemieux.”

“There’s going to be a lot of expectations on this young man, being the first pick in the draft, but I ask that we allow ourselves some patience,” said majority owner Ted Leonsis. “We’re going to build a team around him, a very strong, young, aggressive team, and he is certainly a great fundamental building block for us to go forward on.”

Ovechkin’s parents, both athletic legends in Russia, will join him in Washington later this month, as will Mikael, his older brother. Hence the need for a house above the need for a car.

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