It’s no secret that Washington Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin has been underwhelming thus far in the 2023-24 campaign.
Heading into the holiday break in the NHL regular season, Ovechkin has played in 30 games and has scored just six goals over that span. While he’s tallied 14 assists during the same frame, he’s currently -6 during even-strength play.
There’s no sugar coating it. For the first time in his career, he’s the worst player on the ice.
The most obvious hole in the Great 8’s game has been his considerable loss of foot speed. Weighing almost 250 lbs at 38 years old certainly doesn’t help matters either. On top of this, his greatest asset, his shot, has lost its effect on the power play.
A major, yet overlooked factor in Alex Ovechkin's scoring slump is not having Nicklas Backstrom feeding him the puck as he’s stepped away from the game due to the accumulation of injuries he’s sustained over the years. Left in his stead is a massive void not only as Ovechkin's wingman but as the Capitals’ first-line center.
Evgeny Kuznetsov has immense skill and talent but he’s simply not a first-line center. At his best, he’s one of the game’s most fearsome second-line forwards. Though, given the absence of Backstrom, Kuznetsov has been forced out of this role.
Alexander Ovechkin needs a new center to break the goal-scoring record.
Fortunately for the Washington Capitals and Alex Ovechkin, there is a way to get back on pace to surpass Wayne Gretzky’s record-setting 894 career goals.
Until the Ovechkin era comes to an end, the Caps will not be able to focus their attention on the future. It’s for that reason that their focus should be on the here and now. Helping Ovi reach the fabled scoring milestone while giving the team another chance at the Stanley Cup.
It’s for that reason the Washington Capitals should pick up the phone and call the Edmonton Oilers and ask what it will take to acquire Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in a trade.
RNH has been a cornerstone center for the Edmonton Oilers since being drafted 1st overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Not only has he proven his longevity by playing in 832 career games over the last 13 years, but he’s displayed an unconscious ability to deliver the puck on his teammate’s tape.
Over his lengthy career, Nugent-Hopkins has tallied 241 goals and 422 assists all on the Oilers roster. Moreover, in the last few years, he’s demonstrated elite playmaking on the power play as he notched an astounding 53 points on the man advantage a year ago.
What made the Caps such a fearsome adversary over the last two decades has been their dominance on the power play.
As the core of this team has gotten older, their special teams have grown stagnant. Teams know what to expect and as a result, the team’s success on the man advantage has been fruitless.
Adding Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to this group brings in a new face with tremendous talent and a drive to be a true top-line center. With this acquisition, Kuznetsov will be allowed to fall back to his previous role as the matchup threat each night, freeing him up to provide more balanced scoring on offense.
When it comes to what it will take to pry RNH from the Oilers, the Capitals must be willing to sacrifice some of the future pieces they’ve been stocking up.
Given he’s coming off of a career year, the price for the 31-year-old center would cost no less than two medium to high-end prospects and an early draft pick.
Before fans throw a chair across the room in defiance, a reality check is needed for this team. If the team is to make do with what they currently have, not only will they miss the playoffs, but they won’t be bad enough to receive a high-end draft selection.
Not to mention that Washington is in the same boat as the Pittsburgh Penguins in terms of having an older core group of skaters and a shallow prospect pool. The only difference is that the Caps have less to show for it than the Pens do.
Because of this, the team is at the point where everyone’s effort should be directed toward helping Alex Ovechkin surpass Wayne Gretzky's record for most goals in a career. They need a true first-line center and a designated playmaker to do so. This is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.