As part of the NHL Centennial Celebration, renowned Canadian artist Tony Harris will paint original portraits of each of the 100 Greatest NHL Players presented by Molson Canadian as chosen by a Blue Ribbon panel. NHL.com will reveal two portraits each Monday in 2017.
This week, the portraits of forward Alex Ovechkin and center Elmer Lach are unveiled in the 39th installment.
Alex Ovechkin, the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NHL Draft by the Washington Capitals, was an immediate sensation as a rookie in 2005-06. He won the Calder Trophy after finishing with 106 points (52 goals, 54 assists) and scoring one of the most spectacular goals in NHL history against the Phoenix Coyotes on Jan. 16, 2006.
Ovechkin had the right athletic genes to be a star; his mother, Tatyana, was a two-time Olympic gold medalist and the best Soviet basketball player of her generation, and his father, Mikhail, was a professional soccer player. He quickly turned into the bane of opposing goaltenders, especially on the power play, when his one-timer from the left circle became one of the NHL's most lethal shots.
But Ovechkin also showed he was more than just a scorer. At 6-foot-3, 239 pounds, he was a physical force who seemed to get as much pleasure out of leveling an opponent with a crushing body check as scoring yet another goal.
"Within a week or so we knew that we had a real special human being here," said Glen Hanlon, Ovechkin's first coach with the Capitals.
In his NHL100 profile of Ovechkin, author Wayne Coffey wrote about how the death of his older brother affected him.
"If young Alex needed any additional motivation as hockey-loving kid in Moscow, he got it from the memory of his brother, Sergei, who had introduced him to the sport. Sergei died at 25 of a blood clot after a car wreck. Ten years old at the time, Alex plunged into a grief that would never completely go away but somehow seemed a little less crushing when he was playing hockey. He still avoids talking about the tragedy publicly, but told Graham Bensinger in a 2015 interview about playing a hockey game the day after Sergei's death.
"'It was hard, I was crying… I was on the bench, I was crying,'" he said. "'But my shift coach said 'OK, go play'. And I play and I'm crying. It was hard but at 10 years old, you obviously [don't] realize what's happening.
"'They were very close,'" said Igor Nikulin, a fellow Russia native who played with Ovechkin for four years with Dynamo Moscow in the Kontinental Hockey League. "'The memory of his brother is something he plays for. But he doesn't talk about it, ever.'"
Artist Tony Harris said that like many hockey immortals, Ovechkin has something that's unique to him.
"I have done several paintings of Alex Ovechkin, and my favorite part is always the skate lace that he uses to tie around his pants," Harris said. "Bobby Orr had the single wrap of tape on his stick. Gretzky tucked his shirt in his pants and Ovi uses a skate lace for a belt. Classic.
Video: Alex Ovechkin is three-time Hart Trophy winner
Elmer Lach won the Stanley Cup three times, and won two NHL scoring titles and the Hart Trophy during a career with the Montreal Canadiens that earned him induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966. He did all that despite a list of injuries that would have sent most players into an early retirement.
Lach broke his nose seven times (as best he knew). His jaw had to be permanently wired after a third fracture. His cheekbone was shattered twice, his skull and leg fractured and the stitches he took numbered in the hundreds.
Despite all that, Lach spent 14 seasons in the NHL, many of them as the center on the Canadiens famed "Punch Line," playing between Toe Blake on the left and Maurice Richard on the right. The line's complementary skills made them almost unstoppable at times, never more than in 1944-45, when Richard set an NHL record with 50 goals in 50 games, and Lach led the scoring race with 80 points (26 goals, 54 assists), winning the Hart Trophy as MVP.
Lach was the all-time NHL scoring leader when he retired after the 1953-54 season, finishing his career with 623 points (215 goals, 408 assists) in 664 games. One of his tasks in that final season was to take a rookie center named Jean Beliveau under his wing.
In his NHL100 profile of Lach, NHL.com columnist Dave Stubbs wrote about how the Punch Line came to be:
"Lach had seven goals and 14 assists in 43 games as a rookie, centering Tony Demers and Adams, but impressed more with his rugged play. Lach said he took one suture for each of his points.
"He was sidelined the following season with his shattered elbow, then was inserted in 1942-43 between the veteran Blake and the promising rookie Richard, who broke his ankle 16 games into the season. Benoit was inserted onto the line at right wing and the trio clicked, hailed in Montreal newspaper cartoons as the 'Punch Line' for its potency.
"The Rocket was back in 1943-44, and he, Lach and Blake assumed the 'Punch Line' label. They led the Canadiens to their first Stanley Cup title in 13 seasons that year, and another championship in 1945-46.
"These three men had unique skills and perfectly complemented each other: Richard was the short-fused stick of dynamite with a gift for finding the back of the net; Lach was the tireless, indestructible playmaker and ice general; the veteran Blake was a superb positional player who anchored his teammates.
"'We were just a line,' Lach said, shrugging his shoulders, in an understatement. "'I didn't sense anything special when [coach Dick] Irvin put us together in practice. As a group, we were good. Individually, we were just average hockey players.'"
Harris said he was particularly taken with something that had nothing to do with Lach's performance on the ice.
"The first thing that struck me when researching images of Elmer Lach was his incredible hair," he said. "Even as an older man, his hair remained magnificent. To me, it is every bit iconic as Wayne Gretzky's Jofa helmet, and it was a lot of fun to paint."
Video: Elmer Lach was rugged center for famed 'Punch' line