Comparing Posterboys


Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Alexander Ovechkin might be a more frightening sight coming down the left wing, Sidney Crosby may be the best player in the world, Pavel Datsyuk might be the most complete player in the NHL but as it stands now, nobody is a greater goalscoring threat than a 20 year old kid from Unionville, Ontario. His name – Steven Stamkos.

As much as Alex Ovechkin might be offended by this notion it is absolutely true. Ovechkin has, looking at the overall skillset, more natural talent, arguably because of a physical game that is a bit better than that part of Stamkos’ game. But, when comparing their speed, defensive play, power play contributions, offensive play and shot there are a good number of things going Steven’s way.

First off, looking at their two way play it’s not even a question who triumphs in that department. Stamkos is already a fairly skilled two way player that is eager to work on and improve his defensive zone coverage and two way play. Alexander Ovechkin is an offensive dynamo that has indeed shown more willingness to play captainlike hockey but is still some way off when talking about responsible defensive and positional play. Yes, one could argue that being a centerman (Stamkos) bears more responsibility in that department, but that doesn’t mean Ovechkin should have a free pass when comparing that particular part of their game. The point about Stamkos playing center position will come in play later as the article progresses, so please, do read on.

Let’s now look at their physical characteristics and natural gifts given to them by the hockey gods. At 25, Alexander Ovechkin is a physical beast. He always was. Built like a Soviet (now Russian) tank he’s able to run you through the boards at high velocity speeds and still have enough left in the tank to pull off an end to end rush and stop for lunch. His shot is as hard as they come and the release with which he lets the puck fly off his blade is second to none. However, it’s his incomparable flair that drives this hockey mad man. He’s just hungry for the puck, a goal and the game of hockey. Game in and game out he’s never full. I have never seen such love for the spotlight, passion for the game and goalscoring hunger from any player in any sport in any era.

Compared to Alex, who’s 6’2”, Steven Stamkos stands at 6’1” so not much difference there. However, Steven Stamkos is just 20 years old. He’s five years younger than Ovechkin and is already putting up eye popping numbers. Same as Ovechkin, his shot is off the charts good, in some aspects even better. While I believe that Ovechkin has a somewhat quicker release and an equally hard shot, Stamkos has a very good release, just a little more power but his slap shot accuracy is well and truly best in the hockey world. Now, keep in mind we’re talking about probably the two best shooters in the game. Both players have a fantastic level of hand eye coordination and possess natural goalscoring instincts. But, yes there is a but, Stamkos seems to be able to adjust his game more and score on a bigger variety of ways, Ovechkin gets frustrated if the usual lanes aren’t open or if he doesn’t seem to be able to find space in coverage.

During his breakout year, most of Stamkos’ goals came from the exact same spot while on the PP, just above the left faceoff circle. In the following year, Stamkos scored a relatively low number of his goals from that sweetspot, as teams have changed their approach to defending Lightning PP chances and he had to adjust accordingly. While I do think Ovechkin’s pure goalscoring instincts are better than those of Stamkos, Steven’s overall hockey IQ and knowledge of hockey systems seems to be higher. Then comes the passing ability. Yes, Ovechkin has certainly improved in that aspect of play but Stamkos is still a better passer.

Moving on. What of their upside and future projection? The Great 8 is at the top of his game and will probably remain there for years to come. He’s still the league’s primer superstar (given what that term means) slash moneymaker and will likely someday lift the Stanley Cup. But, yes this is the second but, remember how I said Stamkos is a centerman and what that means? Yes, well him being a centerman also means that he has a bigger impact on his team than a winger. Also, the reason why I think Stamkos, if he isn’t already a more complete player, will eventually end up ahead of Ovie in the team success department is his willingness to improve and train during the offseason. Personal awards are all nice and all, but what eventually defines a career is how many team honors you were a part of. After all, hockey is a team sport. Plain and simple, as things stand now, Stamkos has already made it further into the playoffs than Ovechkin ever has.

Now, it’s not that Ovechkin doesn’t work hard, he does, but what drives him is his flair, hunger for scoring goals and pure offensive talent. Personally, I don’t think he has that much more room to grow as a player. On the other hand, Stamkos has similar, be it lower current ability, coupled with higher player growth options or upside, but much like Crosby he also seems to be obsessed with becoming a better overall hockey player. Humility is also a factor in one’s rise to hockey greatness. One must be willing to admit and recognize his weaknesses in order to improve them. Stamkos has virtually no ego, even if understands his value in the hockey world. The regular regiment he has with Gary Roberts, a man who is a hockey fitness equivalent to Yoda, just improves his chances to dominate the hockey scene for years to come. When it comes to injuries, it can be argued that Ovechkin’s “bull in a China shop” style of play will eventually mean more injuries in the long term.

Last but not least, let’s look at Ovechkin’s numbers at 19, 20 years of age and compare them to what Stamkos has accomplished in his young NHL career. At 19, Ovechkin was still playing for Dynamo Moscow in the Russian Super League (KHL hadn’t been formed yet). That season (2004-2005) he had 13 goals and 13 assists for 26 points in 37 games. And we all know what happened then. 2005-2006 season saw him explode onto the NHL scene potting 52 goals and 54 assists for 106 points in his rookie year and claiming The Calder Trophy ahead of Sidney Crosby. Steven Stamkos won the Rocked Richard at 19 (shared with Crosby) with 51 goals and 44 assists for 95 points becoming the third youngest player in history to lead the league in scoring. He followed that campaign with a 91 point season, scoring 45 goals and tasting playoff hockey for the first time in his young NHL career.

Now, forget everything you just read and let me offer one word of advice to the NHL and fans alike. As much as I love to see both Ovechkin and Crosby hit the ice, they aren’t the only two players in existence. It’s a privilege to be able to watch that caliber of players coming together and continuing the tradition of great player rivalries that the league seems to offer throughout many decades. That is exactly why the point of this article wasn’t (even if it might seem that way) to start another “My player is better than your player” debate but rather recognize the meteoric rise of another exciting young player. As far as his attitude, you couldn’t ask for a better poster boy. Only problem is there are so many players who deserve to wear that cape that my question becomes – why not have three? Or ten? Jarome Iginla, Martin St. Louis, Jonathan Toews etc.

My message is simple – the league is full of exciting talent and to limit your appreciation of the great game on certain players simply because of jerseys, player attitude or a fabricated, blown out of proportion reputation is to restrict one’s viewing pleasure. Love your teams, players, but credit the rival teams, players, their ability and skill for making it all so exciting. By all means my dear NHL, sell the game, sell it to anyone interested, because it is the greatest game in the world, just don’t sell the name on the back more than the logo on the front. By doing that, you’re probably selling some other game.