Evgeni Malkin is not often mentioned among the great players of the game. He has unselfishly toiled in the shadows of great players Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin despite often outperforming them.
Last season, the list of top 100 players all-time did not include Malkin. He was an afterthought in the recent NHLPA poll ranking the best players. That is a glaring oversight and one which may soon be corrected, but Malkin must first win his third Art Ross trophy.
His second Hart Trophy would likely follow.
Since the NHL expanded beyond the original six teams, only a handful of men have won the scoring title more than twice. You know the names, Phil Esposito (5), Guy Lafleur (3), Wayne Gretzky (10), Mario Lemieux (6) and Jaromir Jagr (5). Each player is a Hall of Fame member, each a Stanley Cup winner.
Malkin is making a charge to add his name to the exclusive list, which doesn’t include Crosby. Malkin trails Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov by just two points (86-84) entering Thursday.
Since the All-Star Game, Malkin has 30 points in 16 games (14g, 16a). He tallied 20 points in 12 February games and has six points (1g, 5a) in just three March games. His name has been a fixture on the NHL’s in-season weekly and monthly three stars.
This season, while the Penguins have shuffled wingers around Crosby, Malkin has seized chemistry with Carl Hagelin. The pair teamed with Patric Hornqvist to begin the Penguins torrid 2018 surge in the standings. Last month, when Hornqvist was injured, Bryan Rust filled the right wing, and the line didn’t miss a step. It may have been even better.
Not since Jagr’s reign has a player won an Art Ross with such unheralded offensive players as Hagelin and Rust.
Apologies to Jan Hrdina and Kip Miller.
Legacy on the Line
Malkin’s resume reads like this: Three Stanley Cups, two Art Ross trophies, and one Conn Smythe trophy. (Also, one Hart trophy and the Calder trophy. Thanks to all who requested I add them–Dan K.)
Yet, Malkin is regularly left out of the conversation of great players in the game.
Perhaps always playing beside an all-time great has denied Malkin his proper due. In the NHL, Crosby casts a large shadow. Internationally, Ovechkin hogs Russian headlines. Malkin has not, officially, captained a team or had one to call ‘his’ team.
That small point has meant everything in the context of Malkin’s legacy. He’s never worn a ‘C’ to captain a squad and take credit. He’s never expressed a desire to have one, either. He merely plays hockey with whomever the coaches put beside him. And Malkin does so at an all-world level.
One of a Kind
The 6-foot-3 Malkin possesses powerful strides, a magician’s stick, and might be playing the best hockey of his career. Opposing defensemen are giving ground in fear of being embarrassed. Malkin’s controlled zone entries are powering the Penguins power play, the best in the league. His playmaking skills are inflating the team’s offensive numbers lately.
There isn’t a player in the game more reminiscent of Mario Lemieux, with size, vision, hands, large stride and the possibility of a goal on every shift. Malkin fittingly plays in Pittsburgh as Lemieux’s descendant. But, it is time for Malkin to earn his place with the greats of the game.
It is time Malkin is reflexively placed in that conversation. And nothing will do that except more hardware. A third straight Stanley Cup wouldn’t hurt, but that is a team trophy Crosby will lift first. Malkin needs individual hardware. And, he won’t win the Hart trophy without another Art Ross.
To win the scoring title at 31 years old, supposedly after a player’s offensive prime, would only add to the feat and cement Malkin’s legacy. If he wants it, it likely will be his.