Alex Ovechkin has climbed virtually every NHL mountaintop conceivable, from winning a Stanley Cup with the team that drafted him to earning three Hart Trophies. The Washington Capitals’ captain could retire today and easily be a top-10 player of all time.
But one record still eludes him: the all-time goals mark, set by Wayne Gretzky at 894.
Gretzky, universally considered to be the best player to ever lace up skates, took note of Ovechkin’s quest earlier this week and gave compliments to his potential successor.
“It’s not even a question that he will pass me, and I think it’s great,” Gretzky said in an interview with David Waldstein of the New York Times. “He’s well on his way to 40 or 50 goals this year, maybe more. There is no doubt that ultimately, he will break the record.”
Even at age 36, Ovechkin still has as good a knack for turning on the red light now as he did when he was a rookie. His 22 goals on the season are second only to Leon Draisaitl of Edmonton, and his 47 points are third-most in the league.
At 752 career goals and counting, the Great 8 sits 142 tallies short of tying Gretzky at No. 1, and 15 goals shy of besting former Capital Jaromir Jagr for third-most in league history.
Earlier this season, Gretzky expressed his hope that Ovechkin would break his record, which many considered insurmountable when the Moscow native arrived in D.C.
"No, I do [want it to happen]," Gretzky said back in October. "I think it's great for the game."
Gretzky isn’t faking his admiration for Ovechkin, nor his hope that the Capital will beat his record. According to Waldstein, Gretzky will text Ovechkin when he goes a few games without scoring, reassuring him of his prowess and promising him that the goals will come eventually.
“I think if Alex can stay healthy, I think it's great for the game if he breaks the record because he is the greatest goalscorer that we've ever seen - because it's harder to score today than it was 30, 40, 50 years ago," Gretzky commented last month.
Unlike Gretzky, Ovechkin’s quest for No. 895 has been hampered by lockouts, a pandemic, and the occasional short-term suspension. One thing that has not been a worry for the Capitals has been Ovechkin’s health, as the 36-year-old has shown no signs of wear and tear over the course of his career.
So, while many record-holders dread the day their mark is broken, Gretzky is quite the opposite. Not only does he believe Ovechkin will overtake him, he actively supports it. From the Great One to the Great 8, a huge level of respect is mutual.
“I’m his biggest fan,” Gretzky said.