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Let's stop and appreciate the moments that define Alex Ovechkin's greatness

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Breaking records doesn't define Alex Ovechkin. These moments do.

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You might have heard that Alex Ovechkin is about to reach another milestone.

With one point on Wednesday, the Washington Capitals captain will reach 1,000 points. Only 83 players have ever reached that mark.

Alex, you're only 31 years old. And you're already statistically light-years ahead of your peers.

Like most athletes, the winger's career can't be totally defined by moments. But moments can shape perceptions. And, for better or worse, moments have affected perceptions of Ovechkin time and time again throughout his career. They certainly have for me.

When I realized how many milestones he'd be knocking down last year, I wanted to sit down and reflect on his career to this point. I kept coming back to a handful of memories of him that stood out in my mind. Surprisingly, they weren't all individual plays, broken records or moments from SportsCenter highlight packages. They're phases of his career that, when assessed as a collection, create a portrait of who Alex Ovechkin is and what makes him special.

These aren't his greatest hits. A few of them won't be mentioned when he goes to the Hall of Fame. Many of you might disagree. But when I think about what makes Ovechkin great, these moments stand out most prominently in my mind.

The goal

That's when it all started, isn't it? As a rookie, Ovechkin scored what might go down as one of the greatest goals of all time. And it pretty much foreshadowed what to expect from him the rest of his career: speed, strength, skill and a level of focused tenacity few other players have ever demonstrated.

It also made his presence known outside the sphere of a post-lockout NHL. I was only a casual hockey fan at the time (as many of you commenters will no doubt bring up forever now), but I probably saw that goal dozens of times. It brought an ounce of relevancy and name recognition to a league that desperately needed it at the time.

Few players have announced their presence so boisterously and continued to deliver more of it for a decade.

His amazing antics at the 2015 NHL All-Star fantasy draft

One of the great things about Ovechkin is how he's let his fun-loving nature shine off the ice like few other players. To me, nothing reflects that more than the drunken insanity of the 2015 All-Star fantasy draft. It became the Alex Ovechkin Show.

If he got picked last, he got a free car. He really wanted that car.

Also, a moment of silence for the fantasy draft.


*wipes away single tear*

Okay. Let's keep going.

When he weathered the criticism storm

It's hard to believe just how many people (pundits and fans alike) were tearing Ovechkin's reputation to shreds every single day just a few years ago. After years of playoff disappointments (that weren't entirely his fault; hockey is a team sport after all) and comparisons to the wildly successful Sidney Crosby, the media's microscope narrowed its focus on Ovechkin.

They didn't like what they saw. Of course, some of the criticism was legitimate. But many critics saw what they wanted to see. They saw a player who appeared to float through the defensive and neutral zones. They saw a lazy player. They saw a player with oodles of goals but the league's worst plus-minus ratio. The most notable of these, of course, was NBC analyst Mike Milbury's infamous takedown in 2013.

He wasn't the only one shouting Ovechkin down. Some called for him to lose his captaincy.

But as Ovechkin brushed them aside and kept producing, those criticisms died out. He won the Maurice Richard Trophy that year and became the sixth-fastest player to reach 400 goals. Some players wilt under such scrutiny. Ovechkin faced those critics and responded with greatness that became harder to deny.

When Barry Trotz became his coach in 2014, he expressed a respect that many in the hockey community probably felt at that point:

"I totally miscast him from afar," the Washington Capitals coach told USA TODAY Sports. "Perception is reality, and my perception was all off."


"I call him fearless," Trotz said. "He is not scared of any player in the league. He is not scared of having to play against top players. He is not scared of criticism. He is not scared of accountability. He is not scared of coaching. He is a stand-up guy. He shoulders more of everything than is imaginable."

Perception is everything. And Ovechkin changed it after one of the most difficult phases of his career.

His love for country

Ovechkin's passion for representing his country stands out as a defining characteristic. He was the first Russian athlete to carry the Olympic torch as it began its journey to Sochi in 2014 and called it the best moment of his life. When the Russian national hockey team failed to even medal, Ovechkin found it necessary to apologize to his country.

And as the NHL began to hint at keeping its players from participating in the Winter Olympics, Ovechkin undermined the league with a vow to play for his country in South Korea anyways. His commitment to his country is clearly as important to his legacy as anything he does with the Capitals. One gets the feeling that he'll be content if he never wins a Stanley Cup but still takes home Olympic gold someday.

And that's okay.

His date with Ann Schaab

Everything about this was endearing. When the Capitals skated with the American Special Hockey Association in 2014, Schaab (a 10-year-old with Down syndrome) had the courage to do what many couldn't.

She asked Ovechkin out on a sushi date. And he accepted.

Whatever you thought of Ovechkin earlier in his career, moments like this worked hard to win you over. Actions like these affect an athlete's legacy as much as his on-ice play does.

And that's the wonderful thing about Ovechkin. His stats are mind-bogglingly good. He's an absolute joy to watch every night. But through good times and bad, his career has always been about more than just his game-to-game performances. Ovechkin is both one of NHL history's most productive players and its most colorful.

And he's only 31 years old. We might get another decade of moments like these. Don't forget to appreciate them.