- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Alexander Ovechkin swept in from the right side, not moving very fast because there was no defender on him. He has a habit of dipping his right shoulder slightly when he is in attack mode, sort of like a coiled snake warning you that poison is on the way.

The puck was cradled on the blade of his stick as he entered the outside edge of the faceoff circle and glanced to his left, telegraphing what might be his next move. Those who glanced in that direction — and there were a few caught doing that — missed his real intention.

Olie Kolzig, the Washington Capitals’ All-Star goalie, also missed it — the puck that is, although he had a feeling it was coming. In something less than the twinkling of an eye, Ovechkin unleashed a nasty wrist shot and it was Rookie 1, Kolzig 0, and the day was very young.

“He’s the most talented player I’ve ever faced,” Kolzig said as he entered the dressing room yesterday after the Caps’ first summer skate, an annual ritual leading up to training camp. More than a dozen Washington players were present, one getting a lot more attention than the others.

Ovechkin, a week shy of his 20th birthday, had been mostly a rumor till now. That he was a star on the Russian hockey scene was well documented; he was also the first overall pick in the 2004 draft. But this was a chance to see him up close, even though it was just 4-on-4 shinny.

“The shot,” said right wing Brian Willsie, shaking his head trying to describe it. “It’s so quick, but it’s a real heavy shot and it’s accurate. Wow!”

Said the slimmed-down Kolzig: “You can definitely tell he’s a special kid. It took me a good 40 minutes to get used to his release and he went hard out there, he wasn’t floating. He was flying up and down the ice, battling in the corners. I think he was trying to make an impression, and he impressed me. With the new rule changes and no red line, it’s definitely going to benefit a guy like him with his speed and skill.”

Dainius Zubrus, who played in the same league as Ovechkin last season and knows him well, also is aware someone special will soon be in a Caps uniform.

“He’s a very strong skater, good wrist shot, pretty smart but with him, he knows he has room to learn and he wants to,” the center said. “That’s what separates him from a lot of other young guys. He admits he has things to learn whereas other guys don’t want to admit that. He listens, trying to absorb as much as possible. As good of a player as he is, and he is very good, he is only going to get better.”

Added defenseman Sergei Gonchar, the former Cap who will be a Pittsburgh Penguin next week: “It seems like he has the whole package — speed, size, shot, he sees the ice well, everything. I first heard about him two years ago, in the middle of the season. [Russian commentators] were talking about him all the time. We played together [for Team Russia] in the World Cup, and he showed right away he can play — scored a goal on his first shift.”

Kolzig was reminded that six years ago another budding Russian star, right wing Alexandre Volchkov, also lit him up with a remarkable shot during training camp. That, however, might have been the highlight of Volchkov’s very short NHL career.

“If you saw Volchkov during summer hockey, you’d have the same thoughts but at game time … Volchkov was too immature, too lackadaisical,” the goalie said. “At this level, you can’t survive just on skill. You need a head and maturity, and from everything I’ve seen, this kid has it all.”

And Ovechkin? “I wait for this moment long time,” he said while rapidly consuming four candy bars. “I’m happy. I want to meet my new partners.”

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