During his first locker room chat with reporters after the 2019 offseason, Evgeni Malkin was asked extensively about his rigorous offseason workouts, as seen in snippets via the Pittsburgh Penguins center’s social media.
I asked him in a lighthearted way about having a six-pack based on the social media posts of him working out on a beach without a shirt. Malkin, who is Russian, didn’t understand the inference. Lost in translation, apparently.
Nothing, however, was lost in Malkin’s mission to re-establish himself as an elite star in the NHL at age 33 after a down season in 2018-19. Even having to deal with a couple of injuries didn’t erode the obvious rebound he executed in the 2019-20 season.
That’s why Malkin was my choice when voting for the Penguins’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which recognizes perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. And I wasn’t alone, as my fellow Professional Hockey Writers Association members in the Pittsburgh chapter voted strongly enough for Malkin to ensure he was the team’s entry for the league-wide award, which will be handed out when the NHL has its awards ceremony – a date that hasn’t been announced.
In full transparency, the other two of my required three ranked selections for the Penguins’ nominee were winger Patric Hornqvist for his perpetual dogged approach and his ability to come back from an injury-plagued season, and goaltender Tristan Jarry for the determination and perseverance he showed while waiting for a real shot in the NHL and making the most of it.
But, really, the choice by far this year was Malkin.
Playing in 55 games (the Penguins’ season was shortened to 69 games because of the COVID-19 pandemic), Makin led his team with 74 points, including 25 goals. He was a plus-7. He won more than 50 percent of his faceoffs.
But beyond those or any other statistics, it took only the eye test to see that Malkin had accomplished his stated mission from that day last fall: “I want to show I’m not done.” Done? Try dominant. Determined.
Malkin not only got his game back on track, but he also set the kind of strong example expected of a leader.
After Sidney Crosby left the lineup for a core muscle injury that required surgery, Malkin stepped up with 11 goals, 38 points in 26 games without his fellow star center.
It’s difficult to imagine Malkin performing like that a season earlier.
In 2018-19, Malkin had a career-low in a full NHL season of 21 goals. He led the Penguins with 89 penalty minutes, and many of those penalties were of the unnecessary, sloppy or costly variety, or all of the above. He turned the puck over to the tune of a team-worst minus-25 plus-minus. And again, the eye test was even more telling.
Recent social media posts have shown Evgeni Malkin again doggedly working out as he and others prepare for what everyone hopes is an NHL resumption with the playoffs. It’s further proof that Malkin has applied the qualities associated with the Masterton Trophy, not just to prove a point for one season but moving forward.