Wild’s Evason got early look at Ovechkin’s potential

WASHINGTON — Wild coach Dean Evason was an assistant with the Capitals for seven seasons, a stint he began in 2005 when a newcomer to the NHL named Alex Ovechkin was making his debut with Washington.

"Taught him everything that he knows. One hundred percent. Ask him," Evason said with a straight face before eventually breaking into a smile.

Fast forward 17 years and the rookie Evason once knew is now chasing Wayne Gretzky's record as the top goal scorer of all time, a potential Evason spotted in Ovechkin during their first season together.

"I think we all did watching World Juniors before he even got here how great he was," Evason said. "What was very impressive was his work ethic when he first got here. Sure, he's got the skill set and everybody knows the one-timer. But to watch him train, watch him compete in practice and in the gym and be the teammate that he was and is obviously still, he's one of the greatest of our game."

Last Saturday, Ovechkin tied Mike Gartner for the most 30-goal seasons in league history at 17.

That 30th goal was his 810th overall, moving him 84 shy of Gretzky's record of 894. Back in December, Ovechkin passed Gordie Howe (801) for second place.

"He's got a lot of goals on me, that's for sure," said Wild goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, and Fleury's right; the 25 goals Ovechkin has scored against him is Ovechkin's most vs. any NHL netminder.

"He's a guy that doesn't miss much hockey, right?" Fleury said. "He's been consistent his whole career scoring goals. That's something you can't say too much."

Ovechkin, in his 18th season, is only the 11th NHLer age 37 or older to post 30 goals in a season, and he's the fastest to achieve the feat for that age bracket (45 games).

"The highlights we see it doesn't look like he's lost too many steps," said Evason, who oversaw the team's forwards when he was on the Capitals' staff. "He certainly hasn't lost his shot. He hasn't lost his desire.

"…He's still such a physical presence, and he's so strong. I don't miss doing battle drills with him after practice."

Cap crunch

After signing forward Matt Boldy to a seven-year, $49 million contract extension on Monday, the Wild have approximately $9 million in salary cap space for next season.

With eight players on the current roster on expiring deals, the team could be faced with some "tough decisions," as General Manager Bill Guerin put it.

"We only have so much money to give," Guerin said. "We've got to be able to fit guys in the puzzle. It's that simple. I can't say we're gonna trade certain guys; I can't say we're not. I can't say we're gonna be able to let guys go or whatever. This is a work in progress. But [re-signing Boldy] is the first piece of the puzzle that we got done."

Although the Wild might have to make moves in the summer to create more flexibility, Guerin said, the team isn't feeling the pinch right now.

The Wild's projected cap space for this season is just under $4 million.

"I like our team," Guerin said. "I'm not actively trying to move anybody. We're status quo this year. This doesn't affect us this year. When we get to the summer, we'll see who we have and what we're able to do."

Goalie shuffle

Filip Gustavsson was in net vs. Washington, the eighth consecutive game the Wild switched starts between him and Fleury, but Evason said this isn't intentional.

"Both have played really well," Evason explained. "We debated if we go back to Flower [on Tuesday], and Gus had such a good game a couple games ago. So, it's not a conscious effort to rotate them. Both deserve to be in the net."