The big story, probably, from the Capitals' opening night 5-1 win over the Rangers is the ageless Alex Ovechkin, 36 years young, battling a lower-body injury and being a game-time decision, tying and then passing Marcel Dionne for fifth on the all-time goalscoring list. You can read that story elsewhere, perhaps on this very website. The best story, on the other hand, is Hendrix Lapierre.
The rosy-cheeked 19-year-old out of Gatineau, Quebec, wasn't supposed to be here. The Caps' 2020 first-round pick was marked down for another developmental season, because he's an actual child. But Nicklas Backstrom is hurt, and Washington needed a center, and Lapierre won a roster spot with a strong preseason, and so there he was, in red on opening night.
It's storybook shit. He grew up admiring Ovechkin, who scored his first NHL goal when Lapierre was 3 years old. He spent training camp following around T.J. Oshie like a little lost dog.
Oshie, for his part, loves the little pisher. "Awesome, awesome, awesome guy," Oshie said. "He’s fun to be around. He’s smiling in the locker room. You can tell he’s really enjoying himself."
Fatefully, Lapierre would start the season as 3C, centering Oshie, his increasingly willing mentor. And midway through the second period, the two would find themselves on the rush, where Oshie left a nifty drop pass for the rookie to find a hole in Alexandar Georgiev. The goal was a goal, but the celebration was something special.
Look at Lapierre's face! Look at Oshie peel him off the ice! That, my friends, is the good stuff. "I knew it was his first one," Oshie said. "I was super-excited, and I just thought the celebration would’ve been better with him on his feet."
They're not all going to be like this for Lapierre, and there may not even be many this season: He can appear in nine games before his entry-level contract kicks in, and depending on the state of Backstrom's hip, there's every reason to think the Capitals will stick with the plan and send him back down to the QMJHL, where, thanks to injuries and the pandemic, he hasn't played a full season in three years. (He's not even eligible for the AHL until the juniors season ends.) But just as he earned a spot on the ice for opening day, he could play himself into a rookie NHL season ahead of schedule. Because skill has never really been the question for Lapierre; what dropped him to 22nd overall in the draft was his injury history. He suffered either two or three concussions in a 10-month span in 2019—not great, and especially not great given the ominous-sounding report that the third injury might actually have been a neck injury that mimicked concussion symptoms(?). But when he's been healthy, he's displayed the speed and puckhandling of a grown-ass man. The sample size is small, but he's got 10:14 of NHL ice time and one goal that say he might be ready for the big show right now.
That's a lot to deal with for, again, literally a teenager. But night No. 1 was a delight, and he got to finish it up on the podium, next to—of course—T.J. Oshie. Hendrix, what'd you think of your NHL debut? "It was just so fun."