Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on March 14, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)
I entered the Pittsburgh Penguins' locker room after practice with a theory to test: Center Evgeni Malkin, who, as of Friday, sits two points (89) and two goals (40) away from the league lead in both categories, is the most underappreciated dominant player in the NHL today, and potentially of all time.
"In this locker room he's appreciated," the winger said, "but I don't know if you ask around the league if he is."
Well, let's look at the evidence, shall we?
Malkin is second among active players (to teammate Sidney Crosby) and 13th all time in points per game (1.189), despite having never played in the 1980s like seven of the players ahead of him did for a significant portion of their careers. Malkin is tied for third with Crosby among active players in goals per game, at 0.475, behind only Alex Ovechkinand Steven Stamkos. He's an unstoppable force when he's on, as the NHL has seen for the past several weeks.
"He's been dominant. He's found another level. Especially in the second half, we've needed points, and he found a way to elevate his game," Crosby said of Malkin, who has scored 53 points in 32 games since the start of 2018.
It's hard to imagine a player of his skill, his accomplishments -- three Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe -- and his dominance being underappreciated, and yet here we are.
"As a hockey community, we need to recognize what he's doing. Geno is doing something special," said Phil Bourque, former Penguin and current Penguins Radio Network color analyst. "But it doesn't get as much notice because Sid's here and Phil [Kessel]'s doing what he's doing. And people look at Pittsburgh and they think they're fine. They think they won two Cups. They don't need a guy winning a Hart or a Rocket Richard because they're going to be fine, but he needs to be in the conversation more."
Hagelin agreed. "He's been so special for the last three months. This whole year has been outstanding," he said. "It's a fun ride to be a part of. He's a guy that wants to improve every day, and wants his linemates to improve every day. You just try to go out there every day and help him out. But he really doesn't need a ton of help."
So please join us in informally establishing the Evgeni Malkin Appreciation Society, a nonprofit organization that seeks to strap on an oxygen tank to the Penguins star's accomplishments when Crosby and Kessel suck all the air out of the room. A collective dedicated to keeping Malkin in the conversation, as Bourque said, when the inclination is to take his regular-season exploits for granted on a team seeking its third straight Stanley Cup.
This will be our mission, for Evgeni Malkin cares significantly less about the Hart, Art and Rocket.
"Geno doesn't play for those trophies. He plays for one other trophy," Bourque said. "That's not lip service, that's the truth, and that's incredibly admirable."