- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 11, 2011

As Washington Capitals rookies stepped onto the ice Sunday morning to begin rookie camp, they were joined by a much older prospect. Wearing a black defenseman’s jersey, it was hard not to recognize the man sitting on the bench and stretching on the ice.

It was Alex Ovechkin, complete with his name across his back like the rest of the rookies. Forget that Ovechkin hasn’t been a rookie since the 2005-06 season; this was a chance to set an example for younger players.

“If I’m one of the young guys and I’m seeing Alex Ovechkin and I haven’t skated with him and you see a man that’s like that on the ice, it’s a pretty big ‘wow’ factor,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “And seeing a guy take direction like he did and do what he was supposed to be doing and not have any errors about him, I think it might have something to do with how hard they worked.”

Many players came off the ice sucking wind and later talking about how tired they were in the first official on-ice workout at Kettler Capitals Iceplex since development camp in July. Ovechkin didn’t just make a cameo appearance with the rookies, though, as he stayed on for about half the drills.

Boudreau compared it to his rookie season during his playing days when he got to skate alongside Toronto Maple Leafs Hall of Fame forward Darryl Sittler and getting to work with Boston Bruins Hall of Fame defenseman Bobby Orr while still in junior hockey.

Many of the top Caps prospects have skated with Ovechkin before, either during informal workouts or in past camps. But that doesn’t get rid of the butterflies entirely.

“I’m lucky enough to have seen him over a couple years,” center Cody Eakin said, “and I try not to get nervous when I see him out there skating beside me down the ice.”

Ovechkin’s reason for skating had to do with missing a couple of days of on-ice workouts while taking part in the NHL player media tour in New York City.

So he asked Boudreau if he could jump on.

It’s part of a renewed approach toward being fit and also Ovechkin growing into his role as a captain.

“I don’t have to say, ‘Come on, guys; we have to do this and that,’ ” he said last week. “I have to show them, because I’m one of the leaders of the team.”

Whether Ovechkin realized it or not, he made an impact on younger players who got to do drills with a two-time league MVP.

“I think all the guys appreciate that, and everyone looks at him and sees what he does,” center Mattias Sjogren said. “He’s that kind of player, that kind of scorer in the league, so it’s fun to have him around.”

Regular training camp doesn’t get under way until Saturday, but Ovechkin has been a regular participant in unofficial workouts. This was a chance to do some more drills and help the kids out.

“We’re all here and we’re all skating on the same ice,” Eakin said. “For them, it kind of steps up their game, and for some guys that haven’t seen him, it kind of pushes them and motivates them to not make that bad pass or try to keep up with him.”

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