With his most recent Hart Trophy win as league MVP, Evgeni Malkin has quickly established himself as one of the best Russian players to ever play in the NHL. Over the years we have seen a number of great players come from the former Soviet Union but Malkin is doing an effective job in separating himself from the rest of that group. As his career continues, the hockey world may come to realize that we are not simply witness to one of the great Russian NHL players, but perhaps one of the great players of this generation.
The Third Guy
From the time he entered the NHL in 2003-2004, Malkin has often been considered third in a group that consists of himself, Crosby and Ovechkin. Rightfully so, Crosby and Ovechkin both entered the NHL on fire and it was always considered that while Malkin was great, he was not necessarily on their level. However, over the last few years, the hockey world has seen the best player in the world in Crosby constantly battle concussion issues and hence allow us to hold our breadth every time someone hits Sid. Ovechkin on the other hand has yet to make it past the second round of the playoffs and has built a reputation for taking shifts off on a regular basis.
Ovechkin came into the NHL with something that Malkin did not have, and that was personality. Along with his skills as an elite hockey player, the outgoing personality that Ovechkin had was something that Malkin could not match, especially with Malkin not being fluent in English. Over the years however, Malkin has improved his English and shown a bit of character himself with his exuberance while celebrating goals and looking to the crowd for approval. Much like Lemieux and Crosby, Malkin has become a popular figure amongst the Pittsburgh fans as seeing him in another uniform other than the Penguins would look wrong.
Sharing the Spotlight
No matter what happens, Crosby will always be “the guy” in Pittsburgh and Malkin will always be a close second. When Lemieux and Jagr had the throne in Pittsburgh, there always seemed to be some controversy but we never hear much of that between Sid and Geno. These two superstar players have been able to coexist with the Penguins to the point where they even make exactly the same amount of money on their cap hit.
The Russian Debate
Over the history of the NHL, there have been a great number of Russian players to have laced up the skates. Names like Sergei Fedorov, Alexander Mogilny, Pavel Bure, etc. all come to mind. However, with this great plethora of players has also come a great deal of controversy. Contract disputes, lack of work ethic, and threats of going to the KHL have all been characteristic of many top flight Russian players that have played in the NHL. How often have we heard about the skill level of a player like Alexander Semin yet in turn witnessed his lack of effort when the going gets tough. Then there is Alexei Yashin and his reputation for not playing hard enough in the playoffs.
Malkin has worked to change the stereotypes. In his six years in the NHL, many of the them injury plagued, Malkin has managed to capture two Art Ross trophies, a Hart Trophy as league MVP and perhaps his most impressive accomplishment, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. As Malkin enters the prime of his career, the sky is the limit for what he will be able to achieve moving forward.