Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin nearly collected a table full of hockey hardware last season. In addition to his existing Calder trophy, Conn Smythe, two Art Ross trophies and a Hart, Malkin made a run at another scoring title and was in serious consideration for another Hart trophy until he coasted to the finish line and Edmonton’s Conor McDavid went on an incredible tear. New Jersey winger Taylor Hall eventually won the Hart trophy, and McDavid won the Art Ross with 108 points, but Malkin was tantalizingly close to both.
Will Evgeni Malkin post his third straight strong season and eclipse 85 points?
Last season, Malkin banked 98 points and 42 goals in 78 games. It was his best output since 109 points and 50 goals in 2011-12. Over the past two seasons, Malkin’s goals per game have been steady at .53 and .54 respectively. Had Malkin not missed 20 games due to injury in 2016-17, he would have also posted big numbers. Probably close to 95 points.
Malkin’s award table has been bare since Sidney Crosby returned from head and neck issues in 2012. In fact, Malkin went four years between being named an All-Star (2012-2016). Not coincidentally, in those four seasons, the Penguins’ coaches were perpetually in question, and the organization struggled to find its footing.
Evgeni Malkin maintains a career shooting percentage of 13.8 percent, which places him 12th among active players. His lowest shooting percentage over the last three seasons was an astounding 16.7 percent in 2015-16. The previous two seasons, his percentage has been 17.3 percent and 17.6 percent.
Last season, Malkin formed an unstoppable line with Carl Hagelin on the left wing and Patric Hornqvist on the right. Even with the temporary assertion of Bryan Rust on the right wing during Hornqvist’s absence due to injury, the line rolled. All of Malkin’s linemates are returning for 2018-19, and there is no reason to think Malkin cannot or will not again post a big season.
It comes down to health.
At the minimum, if Malkin can maintain his three shots per game average over 75 games, and only shoot at 14 percent, he will still score 32 goals. Apply his 17 percent shooting, and he’s again a 40 goal scorer.
For Malkin, assists are the difficult thing to predict. If Penguins coaches Mike Sullivan and Mark Recchi keep the Hagelin-Malkin-Hornqvist line together, Malkin could break 100 points and be forced to smile and wave while being handed trophies in Vegas.
If Malkin and Phil Kessel get their wish to be paired, things may not go as well. PHN has written extensively on the statistical boondoggle which Malkin and Kessel created. The pair were blitzed for more goals against (46 percent goals for), produced far fewer high dangers than allowed (43 percent HDSC for) and Malkin especially failed to produce the big numbers he produced with others.
Evgeni Malkin: Over/under 85 points.
PHN will take the over.
The bet here is the Malkin line without Kessel was so statistically impressive and so impressive on the ice, the Penguins coaches are salivating to reunite it. Kessel will have a season with a healthy Derick Brassard whose strength is playmaking. Malkin will be the pinwheel which propels Hornqvist and Hagelin to strong years.
Hagelin’s near Adam Laroche-like ability to scuffle through a season until January could be a problem unless the zippy Swede brings his A-game from the start.
But the only thing which will stop Malkin is another injury. Last season, was the first time Malkin played more than 69 games since 2011-12, but he suffered a leg injury in the playoffs, which substantially limited him and the Penguins. It may be a sucker’s bet, but PHN will bet on Malkin’s health, too.
Put Malkin down for 94 points, which may only be good enough for second place on the team. PHN will examine who could outscore Malkin tomorrow.