- The Washington Times - Friday, June 19, 2009

LAS VEGAS | Consider this another step toward Alex Ovechkin establishing himself as one of the paramount players and personalities of his sport.

On a night when the National Hockey League celebrated its best and brightest, Ovechkin collected both MVP awards, the Hart Memorial Trophy and Lester B. Pearson Award at the Pearl Concert Theater in the Palms hotel Thursday. He also picked up the Maurice Richard Trophy for netting a league-best 56 goals.

This is the second consecutive year the Washington Capitals star has earned all three honors.

“He’s a premier player, and I think he’s still learning how to play,” said Eddie Olczyk, an analyst for NBC and Versus. “I still think the sky’s the limit because as he gets a little bit older, that experience will take him to another level.”

Winning two league MVPs puts him in a select group of NHL royalty. Ovechkin is the 15th player to win the Hart Trophy at least twice since the award was first handed out in 1924.

The first 13 players to perform the feat are in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Goaltender Dominik Hasek, who was the last to win back-to-back MVPs in 1997 and 1998, will be a shoo-in the first year he becomes eligible.

“Alex is already in a select group, and awards are just something you get along the way,” said Caps defenseman Mike Green, who was named a first-team All-Star along with Ovechkin but lost the Norris Trophy — awarded to the NHL’s top defenseman — to ZdenoChara. “With him, he’s going to be the best player for a longtime, and I know he’ll be inducted into the Hall of Fame for sure.”

Ovechkin scored 56 goals this season, 10 more than any other player. He finished second to Pittsburgh Penguins center and rival Evgeni Malkin for the scoring title, which prevented him from winning a second consecutive Art Ross Trophy.

He also had 528 shots on goal, which is the second-highest total in league history. The Russian sniper has led the league in shots each of his four seasons in the NHL.

“It is amazing he can get 10 shots off a game when everyone is trying to stop him,” said Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla, who is a two-time Hart finalist and presented Ovechkin with the Richard Trophy. “Everybody knows he’s the guy to stop, but he still gets what — six shots a game during the season? The rest of us are thinking, ‘If we can just get four, that would be huge.’ He shoots a ton obviously, but he also makes the players around him better, which is so impressive.”

Ovechkin scored several memorable goals this season, but none created a stir like No. 50. After he deposited the milestone marker, Ovechkin dropped his stick behind the net and acted as if it were too hot to pick up.

The staged celebration sent shock waves through a typically conservative sport. While some so-called “hockey purists” were outraged by the display, most of Ovechkin’s peers supported him.

Ovechkin paid homage to the celebration Thursday night when he put the Hart Trophy on the podium and acted like it was too hot to pick up.

“The way he plays and the way he celebrates - I really like that,” Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said. “I like seeing the personality in the game, and that’s what I enjoy about Ovechkin and what I try to put in my game. I think that might have been a problem for the NHL back in the day - they probably didn’t get as many fans as they could because there weren’t players doing things like that. If you do a crazy celebration or score a crazy goal or say something that is either funny or stupid on camera, you’re going to get some attention. I think that’s why fans are coming back - because of players like that.”

Ovechkin’s critics pointed to players like Iginla who don’t show nearly as much emotion as the standard to which players should be held.

“No, I don’t buy into that at all. I think it is enjoyable and entertaining, and that’s who he is,” Iginla said. “I enjoy watching his celebrations. If you can score as many goals as he’s scored in such a short period of time, it is nice to see that it hasn’t gotten old for him.”

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