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Gretzky rooting for Ovechkin to surpass his NHL goals record

League's all-time leader says Capitals forward has 'real legitimate chance'

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- Wayne Gretzky said he continues to believe that Alex Ovechkin has "a real legitimate chance" to break his NHL record of 894 goals and wants a front-row seat when it happens.

Gretzky, who will serve as honorary captain for the Pacific Division at the 2020 NHL All-Star Skills presented by New Amsterdam Vodka at Enterprise Center on Friday (8 p.m. ET: NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS), has been watching from afar while Ovechkin has climbed the list of the NHL's all-time leading goal-scorers. With 34 goals this season, including eight in his past three games, the 34-year-old Washington Capitals left wing is up to 692 in his 15-season career, tying him for ninth in League history with Steve Yzerman and moving him within 202 of catching Gretzky.

"I'm a big believer that records are made to be broken," Gretzky told NHL.com on Friday. "What I accomplished, I'm very proud of. It's hard to do what I did, and it's really hard to do what he's doing now. But there's no question in my mind that he has a real legitimate chance of doing it. The two things that you need; you've got to stay healthy, and he's proven that over his career. He plays hard and he stays healthy. And, secondly, you've got to be on a good team -- and he plays on a good team.

"For my success, I had to play with good players. He plays with good players, and that obviously helps."

Gretzky, who turns 59 on Sunday, retired in 1999 after playing 1,487 regular-season games during 20 NHL seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers. He remembers well the excitement when he was closing in on Gordie Howe's previous record of 801 goals.

Video: Wayne Gretzky all-time leader in goals, points

Howe and his wife, Colleen, followed him from game to game until Gretzky broke his record by scoring his 802nd goal on March 23, 1994, while playing for the Kings against the Vancouver Canucks at the Forum in Inglewood, California.

Gretzky would love to play the role of Howe in a few years and follow Ovechkin around as he's closing in on his record.

"I think it would be wonderful for the game," Gretzky said. "Anything that's positive is always good for the game. I said jokingly to Sergey (Kocharov, Capitals vice president of communications) … I said I hope (Capitals owner Ted Leonsis) realizes that when I was chasing Gordie's record, Gordie and Colleen got to fly on the team plane. I hope I get invited to fly on the team plane because I would love to be at the game."

Video: WSH@NYI: Ovechkin collects hat trick vs. Islanders

Ovechkin has some work to do to get there, but he's showing no signs of slowing down. He had hat tricks in consecutive games for the third time in as many seasons by scoring three goals against the New Jersey Devils in Jan. 16 and three more against the New York Islanders two days later.

Scoring six goals in two games moved Ovechkin within two of Mark Messier (694) for eighth and left him eight away from becoming the eighth player to score 700. He would join Gretzky (894), Howe (801), Jaromir Jagr (766), Brett Hull (741), Marcel Dionne (731), Phil Esposito (717) and Mike Gartner (708) in that exclusive club.

"From the day he came into the game, into the National Hockey League, we knew what he was," Gretzky said. "He was just a hard-working guy who loved to score goals. Everybody loves to score goals. The two, three guys that I always remembered seemed to love it more than anybody were Brett Hull, Mike Bossy and Luc Robitaille, and Alex has that fire. He gets around the net and he just loves to score."

Ovechkin is three goals behind David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins, who leads the NHL with 37, and is on pace to finish with 56, which would be his ninth season with at least 50 goals and tie him with Gretzky and Bossy for the most 50-goal seasons in League history. Ovechkin would also become the second-oldest player in League history to have a 50-goal season, behind only Johnny Bucyk, who was 35 when he scored 51 for the Bruins in 1970-71.

"I was telling some kids yesterday, I spoke at a kids' school, and I said, 'What makes Alex so good is what Brett Hull and Mike Bossy had. He doesn't miss the net,'" Gretzky said. "He gives himself a chance to score every time. What he's done is really tremendous for the game, for the Capitals, for his home country of Russia. I think it's wonderful."

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