June 26, 2004: Then highly-touted prospects Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin made history, becoming the first Russian duo drafted 1st and 2nd overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
For years, it was considered a big risk for NHL teams to draft Russian players thanks to an unclear transfer agreement between the NHL and the Russian Hockey Federation.
Hell, it wasn’t that long ago that Alexander Mogilny had to defect from the Soviet Union to play in the NHL!
But things changed rapidly thanks to the immediate impact of Mogilny and the “Russian Five.”
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And by 2001, the Atlanta Thrashers drafted a young Russian sniper by the name of Ilya Kovalchuk 1st overall — the first Russian born player in NHL history drafted 1st overall.
So by the time the 2004 draft class came along, concerns with drafting top-end Russian talent were all but gone!
Thanks to winning the 2004 NHL Draft Lottery, the Washington Capitals selected Alex Ovechkin with the 1st overall pick.
On October 5th, 2005, Alex Ovechkin made his NHL debut against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Not only did he steamroll Blue Jackets’ defenseman, Radoslav Suchy, on his first shift, but he also went on to score two goals including the game-winner… and the Great 8 never looked back!
Ever since, Alex Ovechkin has won a Calder Trophy, Art Ross Trophy, Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy (9x), Hart Trophy (3x), Ted Lindsay Award (3x), Conn Smythe Trophy, and 1 Stanley Cup.
And was recently voted the NHL’s greatest goal scorer of all time!
Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Penguins “lost” the 2004 NHL Entry Draft Lottery and settled for their consolation prize: Evgeni Malkin.
Not to be outdone by his fellow countryman, Malkin not only scored in his first NHL game but rather his first 6 (including an absolute beauty against Martin Brodeur, below), making him the 1st NHL player to score a goal in his first 6 games in 89 years!
And since his 2006 NHL debut, Malkin has won the Calder Trophy, Art Ross Trophy (2x), Hart Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award, Conn Smythe Trophy, and 3 Stanley Cups!
No doubt both Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin will one day go down as some of the greatest players in the game, Russian or not, and will rightfully find their place in the Hockey Hall of Fame.