Alex Ovechkin in his first five seasons has taken the NHL by storm. He's the fastest player to 200 goals outside of Gretzky, Lemieux, and Bossy. He's one of three to tally 200 goals and 200 assists in his first four NHL seasons (Gretzky and Bossy). He has, arguably, the second best rookie season in the NHL ever, after Teemu Selanne's crazy 76-56-132 1992-1993. He is already the best player in Caps history and soon enough should hold all major franchise offensive records. He's the only Capital who could ever be said to be the best player in hockey for any extended period of time.
Ask people what makes Alex Ovechkin so special, and they go with his shot, his physicality, his reckless abandon, his enthusiasm, or even his linemates for the skeptics.
One tool that I can't help but feel gets overlooked is his skating. In years past at times it came to the forefront, but his game is so much more than skating that the flashier parts like his hard wrist shot come into the light more than the unflashier, "technical" parts like positioning and skating. A guy like Jason Chimera really has only physicality and skating in his game, so of course skating is emphasized as his biggest asset. Mike Green as a young defenseman in the WHL also was touted as a great skater, but you hardly see that around anymore. Nicklas Lidstrom's skating is always highly touted because he doesn't have any flashy parts to his game, or at least doesn't use flashy stickhandling and his wrist shot often.
Corey Pronman on Puck Prospectus started using the 20-80 scale in hockey, like in baseball, and had this little tidbit on the "70" description.
"70: Significantly above average (plus plus), this skill is one of the best in the game and is in an elite class. This is a grade rarely given out. Steve Stamkos’ shot, Chris Prongers’, physical game, Nicklas Lidstrom’s hockey sense, and Alex Ovechkin’s skating are examples."
(the folks over at Japers' Rink then had an easy time rating Ovechkin's skating, among other tools and other players)
Alex Ovechkin's terrific skating is really easy to see if you pay attention. For example:
Watch how Ovechkin accelerates for the puck, and even in the midst of so many bodies and hits, manages to stay upright all the time save after the initial hit by Johnny Boychuk.
This goal remains one my favorite Ovechkin goals, in part because of how effortlessly he glides and how his legs work in tandem with his hands and stick. It's like Ovechkin is gaining full traction on the ice. Like he's, in fact, walking on ice, but faster.
Look at how Ovechkin accelerates through the neutral zone.
Same deal here. Acceleration, speed, balance.
Ovechkin was already out for around 80 seconds, then has to hustle back. Great acceleration and speed there.
Ovechkin doesn't catch the Flyers' D flat-footed there if he isn't able to skate extremely well, accelerate, and turn.
Part of skating is balance, which affects a player's perceived strength as well. Here, Ovechkin balances well--on one foot--against Michal Rozival, who is decently strong and big himself. Good skate position was critical to the goal, and not just core and leg strength (which Ovechkin has in spades as well).
Ovechkin can skate backwards too.
For sake of comparison:
Not Schultz's finest moment, I know, and I'm not trying to bash on Jeff Schultz, resident top pairing defenseman in Washington. Just look how he seems to lose so much with each step, like he's "skating in quicksand." You can see the same things with Hal Gill and even Zdeno Chara, who worked full summers earlier in his career on his skating to merely get it to a "50."
I guess the point of this post is twofold: one, to watch clips of Alex Ovechkin's greatness, but also make sure next time you see Alex Ovechkin skating down the left wing and cutting to the middle, you consciously appreciate just what a great skater he is.