WASHINGTON -- The last time the World Cup of Hockey was held, Alex Ovechkin was 19 years old and the youngest player in the tournament. He played two games for Team Russia two months after he was selected by the Washington Capitals as the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NHL Draft.
"I was a teenager then [in 2004] and I played in a couple games and it was an unbelievable experience for me just to see players from the NHL," Ovechkin said Tuesday, a few hours before he was named one of the first 16 players on Team Russia for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, which will be held Sept. 17 to Oct. 1 in Toronto. "You're just watching TV and reading the newspaper as a little guy and you play against them."
Ovechkin, now 30, has the benefit of 11 NHL seasons and has represented Russia 11 times at the IIHF World Championships and at two Olympics. He said he's looking forward to recreating the experience he had at the 2004 World Cup.
"It's a huge honor, obviously, representing your country," Ovechkin said. "Doesn't matter which tournament. It's a huge honor. It's nice to be in the list and I'm proud to represent my country."
This time, though, he'll be one of the veterans.
"It's a huge experience for young guys and a great time for experienced guys who represent their country," Ovechkin said. "It's a big stage, so it's a big tournament."
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One of those younger players is 23-year-old Evgeny Kuznetsov, Ovechkin's teammate in Washington.
"Everybody knew he had … a talent to be one of the best players in the League," Ovechkin said of Kuznetsov. "He's still young obviously. In the future he's going to be more mature, have more experience, and I'm pretty sure 20 goals is just the beginning for him. He can score 40, you know, easily, in this League if he's going to continue what he's doing, and he's going to be a top player.
When asked what makes Kuznetsov a special player, Ovechkin didn't hesitate.
"Hockey sense," Ovechkin said. "Just read the play, create the play. He makes everybody better who's around him. You can see, when he has the puck the people have more respect than [they did] last year or the year before, so he's creative. … With that kind of skill he can make a play if you don't expect it, you know? On the power play or 5-on-5. It's a huge advantage for us."
Even though the tournament is five months away, players already are feeling the energy surrounding the World Cup. Ovechkin said the players will feed off the excitement, and there's an added bonus of getting to play in Toronto.
"When you play in Canada, it's something that you always dream and you always want," Ovechkin said. "Just the atmosphere, the fans, the media. Like, everything is on the top so it's great for us to have that kind of time."