Auston Matthews leads the NHL in goals this season with 58 and is trying to become the first player to score 60 since captaining the Tampa Bay Lightning Steven Stamkos did it in 2012.
Put them on the ice together, as they will when Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals take on Matthews’ Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday (TVAS, TSN4, NBCSWA, ESPN+, NHL Live), and the world hockey will be able to see two of the greatest scorers of their generation, if not for many others.
“Matthews seems really special,” Gretzky said. “What he’s doing is very similar to what Ovechkin did when he was younger, so I think they’re a lot alike.
“They are both exceptional goalscorers.”
Ovechkin, the 36-year-old forward, scored 273 goals in his first 400 games, the fifth most in NHL history. Matthews, the 24-year-old center, ranks eighth on the list, scoring 255 times in his first 400 games.
Each has the same ranking when it comes to the fewest games to reach 250 goals. Ovechkin is fifth, making it in 366 games; Matthews is eighth, accomplishing the feat in 397 games.
Ovechkin, who is four goals shy of his ninth 50-goal season, was asked what he and Matthews have in common in their positions as two of the game’s leading scorers.
“For me, it’s kind of hard to tell what the similarities are,” he said. “We both like an offensive game and he also plays with great players who give him the puck and give him the free space.
“Obviously it’s always fun to watch. I’m happy for him and hope he plays the same way and continues.”
To further the Ovechkin-Matthews comparison, NHL.com chose Ovechkin’s mastermind, along with a number of players, teammates and coaches who observed each with their own eyes.
No player has scored more goals in his first 400 NHL games than Gretzky, who scored 366 during that span. He finished with 894 in 1,487 games, the most in NHL history.
Nicklas Backstrom. The 34-year-old is the Capitals’ all-time leader in assists with 745 and has spent much of his career centering Ovechkin’s line.
New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz was the Capitals coach in 2018 when Washington won the Stanley Cup. Vancouver Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau coached Washington from 2007 to 2011.
What do Ovechkin and Matthews have in common? How are they different? The panel will debate.
How impressed are you with what Matthews is accomplishing, this season and in his career? He already set the Maple Leafs’ single-season goalscoring record in 2021-22, eclipsing Rick Vaive’s 54 in 1991-92.
Gretzky: “There’s no limit to his ceiling, is there? Because he’s so good and he’s so big and strong and fast and he’s got a great outing. He’s a really special player .”
Ovetchkin: “I think it’s great. Obviously he’s one of the best players. Every time you see someone score 50 or  goals, that’s pretty cool and I hope he keeps doing what he’s been doing. It’s fun to watch.”
Backstrom: “First of all, he’s a very talented player and just the way he’s playing the game at the moment, he’s full of confidence. It looks like he’s growing every year too. He’s getting better every year. So , if he recovers 60 goals, it’s quite incredible. Few people have done that.”
Trotz: “When I saw Auston when he started to take off, I said he reminded me of a young Mario Lemieux. He has such long reach and he moves the puck to his body.”
At this point: The consensus seems to be that they each share the quality of having dangerous shots, two of the best in the sport. How are their plans similar and, indeed, different?
Ovetchkin: “Obviously his wrist shot is very heavy, very dangerous. But he is a center, he plays in a different way. He plays, we can say, more with the puck. He goes back and forth. Him, (Connor) McDavid, (Leon) Draisaitl, all those guys, what they can do with the stick and the puck, it’s pretty cool. »
Boudeau: “First of all, they’re both big and strong, and they can both shoot the puck better than anyone. And they like to shoot the puck better than anyone. The biggest comparison I can see is when ‘ Ovi’ was in his early twenties, he led the league in shot attempts by tons and tons and Matthews is up there now. They both have good hands, they both have good instincts, but that’s the closest comparison I’ve seen is shooting. The output of both is amazing, so it works for them.”
Backstrom: “I think they have that shot on the wrist. Both have quite similar [ones]. They both have a great wrist shot. I think the difference is that ‘O’s one-timer is a bit different from his.”
Trotz: “Obviously the biggest thing with them is the outing. Ovi is a little bit different. He’s got that half slapper, that wrist shot. It’s hard to read the puck on Ovi’s stick, it’s hard to read the puck on Ovi’s stick. is really the case. He has such strong wrists that he can send it here or there. He really doesn’t see a lot of traffic in front of him. He has this vision that sees everything but that traffic, so he always aims for those places.
“With Austin, after seeing it on TV and live, he moves the puck on his body and changes the angle. He’s able to contort from there. That’s probably the biggest difference I see.”
Gretzky: “What they share in terms of shots: rapid triggering, velocity and precision.”
What do you take away from some of the comparisons between the two players, some of whom call Matthews “The Next Ovechkin?”
Trotz: “Ovi is undoubtedly the greatest scorer of all generations. Maybe Austin is next. If he scores at this rate, it won’t take him long. But Ovi, to me, is a shooter too. pure as you” I will never see.”
Backstrom: “You look at the guys that (Matthews) plays with: Mitch Marner, (John) Tavares, (William) Nylander. You’ve got all these guys who can set it up as well. So he’s a great, great player, but obviously it’s a team sport, so he probably gives credit to a lot of his teammates too.”
Ovetchkin: “I think the last (scorer of 60 goals) was Stamkos. So that would be good (for Matthews).”
While Matthews is aiming for 60 goals, Ovechkin is trying to tie Gretzky and New York Islanders Hall of Fame forward Mike Bossy for the most 50-goal seasons with nine. What would it mean to reach this milestone?
Ovetchkin: “It’ll be a pretty cool number again, pretty cool company. I’m just trying to do my best and if I get to 50, that’ll be good. If not, we’ll still have next season.”
Backstrom: “I think it would mean a lot, actually. It would be his ninth. He wants to get there and he’s on his way. So it will mean a lot, I think, for him personally.”
He is in contention to become the oldest player to reach that mark. Former Boston Bruins forward Johnny Bucyk holds the record. He was 35 when he did it in 1971-72.
Backstrom: “If he does, that’s amazing. No more sticks for his museum, right?”
— NHL.com Editor Tom Gulitti and Freelance Correspondents Kevin Woodley and Kurt Dusterberg contributed to this report