Say No. 8 to a Capitals fan and every one of them will know exactly who you are talking about. Some players with their play can essentially claim a number within a franchise. There have been several players who have worn the numbers 5, 8, 12 and 19 for the Caps and yet, there is only one player that comes to mind for the fans for each of those numbers. Other numbers, however, are not as obvious.
With that, let's go through the history of the Capitals and determine which player is the best to ever wear that number for the team.
Today's list will go through the numbers 1 through 20.
1: Semyon Varlamov
The goalie number. Thirteen different players have worn No. 1 for Washington and, not surprisingly, every one of them was a goalie. Varlamov actually started out as No. 40 before changing to No. 1. He was a very good goalie who, for several years, looked like he was going to be the next franchise goalie, but a crowded goalie pipeline and injury concerns led to the team cutting bait. Still, a .917 save percentage, 2.39 GAA a 30-13-12 record and one of the most amazing saves in franchise history against Sidney Crosby is a really good resume.
2: Matt Niskanen
There were a handful of very good defensemen to consider here, but in the end it came down to Niskanen or Ken Klee. Klee was a good defenseman who spent nine seasons in Washington, the bulk of his career, but he never played quit as significant a role on Washington as Niskanen did. Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen together were a good shut-down pair for several years. I would label Niskanen a two-way forward who leans a bit more towards the defensive end of the ice, but he still put up good numbers with 156 points in 390 games for the Caps. And, oh yeah, he was a major factor in the team's Cup run as well.
3: Scott Stevens
Stevens is better known for his time with the New Jersey Devils, but his Hall of Fame career started in Washington where he spent eight seasons. You probably know Stevens primarily for his heavy hits and defensive capabilities, but he was strong on the other end of the ice when he needed to be. Playing with a Devils team that essentially defined defensive hockey during that era of the NHL, Stevens still amassed 430 points in 956 games. In his 601 games with Washington, he scored 429 points.
4: Kevin Hatcher
Hatcher was, for a time, one of the most dominant two-way defensemen in the game. Remember how big of a deal it was when Mike Green scored 31 goals in a season? In 1992-93, Hatcher scored 34 goals for the Caps and he remains the franchise leader in goals by a defenseman with 149.
5: Rod Langway
Not much explanation needed for this one. Langway is arguably the best defenseman to play for the Capitals and his No. 5 has been retired by the team.
6: Calle Johansson
Johansson ranks second in franchise history in games played (983) and points by a defenseman (474).
7: Yvon Labre
Only one player has ever worn the No. 7 in franchise history and, since that number has been retired by the team, Labre will be the only one who ever will.
8: Alex Ovechkin
Sorry Dmitri Khristich, but this number belongs to Ovechkin. When he retires, no one is going to wear this number for the Caps ever again.
9: Ryan Walter
This was a really tough choice between Walter and Dainius Zubrus. Walter is a rather underrated player who put up 114 goals and 163 assists in just 307 games for Washington, the first four seasons of his NHL career. That's more goals and more assists than Zubrus put up with the Caps despite playing fewer games. Both players ended up playing for over 1,000 career games in the NHL, but Walter was the more prolific offensive producer of the two.
10: Bobby Carpenter
You may be surprised not to see Kelly Miller here, but that's because Carpenter is a player who never seems to get his due. Rarely is he seen as a top player in franchise history, but he tallied 395 points in his Capitals career which is more than players like Green, Adam Oates, Evgeny Kuzntesov, Brooks Laich and Dmitri Khristich. The Massachusetts native ultimately played in over 1,100 NHL games with 728 points.
11: Mike Gartner
Gartner spent the bulk of his career with Washington, scoring 397 of his 708 goals with the Caps which ranks third in franchise history. The No. 11 will not be worn again as it was retired by the team.
12: Peter Bondra
Before Ovechkin, Bondra was the top goal scorer in team history with 472. There are many who believe this number should be retired by the team, but even if it is not, all Caps fans already associate the No. 12 with Bondra.
13: Jakub Vrana
Vrana's NHL career has gone for only four seasons thus far, but already he can claim No. 13. In those four seasons, he has scored 65 goals including 25 in 2019-20. Of those 65 goals, only six of them have come on the power play as a loaded roster has limited his time at the man advantage. He already looks like he can be a special goal-scorer for a long time in Washington.
14: Geoff Courtnall
I almost put Justin Williams here. He scored 100 points in two seasons with the Caps, plus has won the Stanley Cup three times and the Conn Smythe once. In the end, though, I just could not get past the numbers Courtnall put up in his two-year Washington career. In those two years, he scored 77 goals and 77 assists which is a pretty darn good stretch of two years. For his career, Courtnall played in over 1,000 games with 799 total points.
15: Guy Charron
Charron's NHL career spanned 12 seasons, but he really didn't take off until he came to Washington. In his first season with the Caps in 1976-77, Charron set a career-high with 82 points. His production tapered off in his last two seasons, but In his first three seasons in Washington, he scored 102 goals.
16: Bengt-Ake Gustafsson
The answer is probably Trevor Linden, but he played only 28 games for Washington so it is hard for me to say he is the greatest No. 16 in franchise history, especially when there is a pretty good player in Gustafsson who also wore that number. Gustafsson spent his entire nine-year NHL career with the Caps, scoring 195 goals and 554 total points.
17: Mike Ridley
Just like with No. 16, the real answer is probably a player who has played very few games with the franchise. It is hard to argue against Ilya Kovalchuk except for the fact that he has played only seven games for the Caps. Because of that, I instead went with Ridley who is one of the more underrated Washington players. He ranks fifth in franchise history in goals (218) and eighth in points (547).
18: Andrew Brunette
Despite being a seventh-round pick, Brunette put together a remarkable career with 1,110 NHL games and 733 total points. He was an incredibly durable player and managed a streak of 509 straight games. He insisted on finishing out the 2008-09 season despite tearing his ACL...in January. He still managed to play the final three months of the season on the torn ACL.
19: Nicklas Backstrom
Backstrom has more points as a Capitals player than any other player except for Ovechkin. He is one of the greatest players in franchise history and we never talk about it because he happens to be teammates with the greatest.
20: Michal Pivonka
This one was tough as 20 is the number of Robert Lang, Richard Zednik and Lars Eller, but Pivonka is the best of the bunch. He spent his entire 13-season career in Washington and was the franchise leader in assists before guys named Ovechkin and Backstrom came along.
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