Washington Capitals: A look back at Steve Konowalchuk

2003 Season: Player Steve Konowalchuk of the Washington Capitals. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)
2003 Season: Player Steve Konowalchuk of the Washington Capitals. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images) /

One of the best offensive wingers in Washington Capitals history was Steve Konowalchuk.

Steve Konowalchuk was drafted in the third round at 58th overall by the Washington Capitals in 1991. He was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, becoming the first athlete born in that state to be drafted into the NHL. Prior to his selection, he was a member of the Portland Winter Hawks of the WHL.

Konowalchuk finished his first WHL season prior to that draft with a strong 92 points (43 goals, 49 assists) in 72 games. He was even better the next season with 51 goals and 53 assists (104 points) in 64 games.

The Capitals called him up later that season and he suited up for one regular season game while serving as an extra in the playoffs. Additionally, Konowalchuk appeared in three games and had a goal with Washington’s then-AHL affiliate Baltimore Skipjacks.

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Konowalchuk scored his first NHL goal on Halloween night of 1992 in Edmonton. His 1992-93 season was split between NHL and AHL action appearing in 37 and 36, respectively. With the Capitals, Konowalchuk posted four goals and seven assists (11 points) while recording 46 points (18 goals, 28 assists) with the Skipjacks.

The next two seasons saw Konowalchuk score 12 and 11 goals, respectively, before posting a then career-best 23 goals in 1995-96 in 70 games. In 1996, Konowalchuk won the first ever World Cup of Hockey with Team USA.

Konowalchuk continued to score double-digit goal and assist totals his next four seasons, including a career-high 24 goals and 23 assists in the 2000-01 season. The very next season, Konowalchuk was named co-captain with defenseman Brendan Witt. That season saw Konowalchuk hampered by a shoulder injury, causing him to play in just 28 games and miss winter Olympic action.

In the 2002-03 season, Konowalchuk was promoted as sole team captain. The Capitals had a solid season finishing second in the Southeast Division and making the playoffs. Konowalchuk had 15 goals and 15 assists in 77 games.

The 2003-04 season was a dreadful right from the start with the Capitals going winless in five of their first six games. This prompted a change to be made and that move was trading Konowalchuk along with a 2004 third rounder to the Colorado Avalanche for Bates Battaglia and the rights to forward Jonas Johansson. Capitals General Manager George McPhee told The Washington Post (subscription required):

"“If your team is not performing well then you have to see if you can change things, hopefully for the better.”"

The trade happened right as the Capitals were in Ottawa and it shocked Konowalchuck, telling the Post from the team hotel in the same story:

"“I definitely have mixed emotions. Right now part of me wants to cry. I’ve been in Washington almost as long as I’ve been anywhere in my life and I have a lot of friends in town, not counting the friends I have played with for so long on the team and the training staff. The Capitals have been great to me and I was very fortunate to play for one team for that long.”"

Konowalchuk finished the 2003-04 season recording 39 points (19 goals, 21 assists) in 76 games and added four goals in the playoffs. Sadly after the lockout cancelled the following season, Konowalchuk’s career was cut short in the middle of the 2005-06 season at age 33 when he was diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome. He announced his retirement on September 29, 2006.

Konowalchuk will always be remembered in his 13 seasons in Washington as a fan favorite who had a two-way game with offensive upside and penalty kill toughness. His Capitals career ended recording 342 points (146 goals, 196 assists) in 693 games.

Since his retirement, Konowalchuk has been behind a few NHL benches as an assistant coach. He was an assistant with the Avalanche during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, respectively.

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He also was head coach of the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL from 2011-2017 before returning to the NHL as an assistant for the Anaheim Ducks for one season. Konowalchuk is currently an amateur scout for the New York Rangers.