I’d like to take a moment to remind hockey fans of something they may have forgotten: Evgeni Malkin is only 25 years old.
While a lot of the young-gun-love has gone to the likes of Claude Giroux (23) and Phil Kessel (24) this season, wouldn’t you take Evgeni Malkin over either of those guys if you were starting a team today?
A while back I composed a top-10 list of who I thought were the next-best NHL players to Sidney Crosby, and shamefully left off Malkin (an oversight, not a decision). How does that happen?
Evgeni Malkin has won a Stanley Cup, and wasn’t exactly a passenger along the way – he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the best player in playoffs, leading everyone in points. That was the same year he led the NHL in regular season scoring with 113 points, taking home the Art Ross Trophy. The season before that he was a runner-up for the Hart Trophy. And the one before that, he won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. He’s simply a phenom.
But suddenly, things weren’t the same. Last year’s version of 24/7 showed him testing an injury at practice, with coach Dan Bylsma pushing him to come back as soon as possible. When Malkin made some mention that he “wasn’t ready,” I guess I sort of wrote him off as a bit soft. But nope – it turns out he had spent the majority of the season playing through pain.
It was only injuries that slowed his run of dominance – he never played a game after February 4th of 2011, and we’re not really sure how long prior to him stepping away for knee surgery he was playing hindered. He didn’t look like himself in the way that Ovy doesn’t look the same to us this year. He just sort of slunk out of the spotlight for a bit.
But here he is again, healthy.
Is there anyone as scary in the League when they’re on a tear? (Answer: no. While there are other scary “hot” players, nobody gets to Malkin’s level.)
Malkin has 15 points in his last six games – eight in his last two. He has 39 on the year, good enough to be in a first place tie. His points-per-game average of 1.44 (after 27 games) is second only to Sidney Crosby’s 1.50. And I don’t have his exact puck possession numbers in front of me, so just assume they hover around whatever his average time-on-ice is per night.
The way he uses his big body and long stick reminds me of the way a young Jaromir Jagr used to operate, and a little bit of how Marian Hossa currently plays. They combine body position and strength with crazy vision, and make you think that if the game was keep-away, nobody else would get to touch the puck.
So in seeing Malkin play like he has, healthy again, over the past couple weeks I have to say it: if we were holding a draft right now to re-pick all the teams and I have the first pick, I’m not so sure I don’t take him. When he’s healthy, he’s as good as anyone in the game.