Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Malkin makes case as greatest Russian-born player in NHL history

By Jonathan Bombulie
June 13, 2017

Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins lifts the Stanley Cup after the Penguins defeated the Nashville Predators 2-0 to win the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Bridgestone Arena on June 11, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

Given the contents of his trophy case, it's hard to believe Evgeni Malkin's reputation as one of the game's all-time greats needs any further reinforcement.
His third Stanley Cup championship secured Sunday night in Nashville added to a collection that already included two Art Ross trophies as the league's leading scorer, a Hart Trophy as league MVP in 2012, a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2009, a Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2007 and gold medals in the World Junior Championships and World Championships.
But given the results of the balloting for the NHL's list of its 100 greatest players of all time released at the All-Star Game this season — Malkin was inexplicably left off — apparently his legacy hasn't been cemented in everyone's eyes in the hockey community.
Perhaps this will help: Given recent events, a case could be made for Malkin as the greatest Russian-born player in NHL history.
No Russian player has won more Stanley Cup championships. With three, Malkin is tied with Sergei Fedorov and Sergei Brylin for the top spot on the list.
Fedorov has recorded more points in both the regular season and playoffs, and Alex Ovechkin is one of the game's all-time great goal scorers, but Malkin has key advantages over both.
Fedorov's numbers were accumulated during an 18-year NHL career. On a points-per-game basis, Malkin's totals of 832 points in 706 regular-season games and 157 points in 149 playoff games are far more impressive.
Ovechkin, of course, has never won a Stanley Cup.
In the immediate aftermath of the Penguins' victory in Nashville, Malkin had little interest in assessing his place in history.
That wasn't because he was too busy celebrating, though. It was because the ending of his story hasn't been written yet.
“I'm not thinking about that because I think we'll still play together for a long time and maybe win,” Malkin said. “When we're retired, we can think about that. Now, we're still young. We're still hungry. We want more.”
At various points in the season — sometimes when the team was going through a particularly grueling stretch of schedule, sometimes when he was coming off an injury, sometimes when he passed another goals or points milestone in his career — Malkin would jokingly remind folks in the locker room that he's getting old.
While Malkin will turn 31 before the puck drops again in the fall, it's not like he's slowing down.
Malkin led the league in playoff scoring, recording 10 goals and 28 points. His offensive consistency was remarkable, hitting the scoresheet in 17 of 25 playoff games.
Malkin finished second to Sidney Crosby in the voting for the Conn Smythe trophy. After Sunday's final game, Crosby was asked where his vote for playoff MVP would have gone if he had one.
“I think Geno comes to mind right away,” Crosby said.
When pundits start to put together their lists of favorites to win the 2018 Stanley Cup, the Penguins will come to mind right away, as well.
With Malkin and Crosby leading the way and most other key players returning, a run for a third championship next season surely isn't out of the question.
Malkin knows it won't be easy.
“It's so hard,” he said. “New teams come with new guys, like Edmonton, Toronto.
“It's an amazing league. Every team has a chance to win. It's so hard.”
After a couple of months to rest up, though, who knows?
“We're tired a little bit, for sure, but now it's over,” Malkin said. “It's an unbelievable feeling. Lots of emotion. Tomorrow, we wake up. It's a new day, an amazing day. Family's here. A great summer for sure.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.comor via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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