Capitals coach Adam Oates spent all of last season trying to get right-handed shooting left winger Alex Ovechkin comfortable playing on the right side.
The two were rewarded when Ovechkin led the NHL with 32 goals and won the Hart Trophy for the third time in his career.
“I’ve said this lots of times,” Oates said Thursday after overseeing his first day of training camp at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
“I’m very thankful that he trusted me enough to try it. He was a very successful man before he met me and he was willing to try it. We’re all glad he had some success.”
So what do Oates and Ovechkin have up their sleeves this season?
“I think he’s got a lot of room to grow,” Oates said “He’s obviously a fantastic hockey player and all it did [moving from left wing to right wing] was allow him to touch the puck more. I think if he gets used to that he’s going to want the puck more and that’s going to help his linemates.”
Ovechkin, who will turn 28 next week, is scheduled to start the season on the same top line that ended last season, with center Nicklas Backstrom and left wing Marcus Johansson.
But when the Olympics roll around in February, Backstrom and Johansson will be playing for Sweden and Ovechkin could go back to playing left wing for Team Russia. With that in mind, will Oates make a phone call to Russian Olympic coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov and insist he play Ovechkin on the right side?
“They’d be crazy not to,” he said. “The whole team, they play different hockey. They’re used to all their guys being on the wrong side.
“That’s the way they play. But they’ve had success doing it that way, that’s their style. I don’t want [Ovechkin] to not succeed over there. I want him to do well. So whatever their coach thinks will make sense for him.”
Oates said there is still no clarity to Ovechkin’s plans on traveling to Greece for the Olympic torch lighting ceremony on Sept. 29, two days before the Caps’ season opener in Chicago on Oct. 1.
Capitals general manager George McPhee also laid to rest persistent rumors of Ovechkin being lured to play in the KHL. Ovechkin has eight years and $79 million remaining on the 13-year contract McPhee gave him in 2008.
“He’s always been straight up with us,” McPhee said. “He says he wants to be here, he is here, and he’s committed.”