After an injury-shortened season in 2010-11, Pittsburgh forward Evgeni Malkin
isn't taking anything for granted this time around.
That mindset has served the Russian star well, as a healthy Malkin leads the League in scoring at the All-Star break with 58 points in just 42 games. His prolific scoring has helped Pittsburgh to a fifth-place standing in the Eastern Conference at the break and earned him a fourth All-Star Game selection in six seasons.
Center - PIT
GOALS: 26 | ASST: 32 | PTS: 58
SOG: 202 | +/-: 12
"Everybody knows that since I was injured (last season) I missed many games. It was important for me to deserve this spot on the All Star roster," Malkin told NHL.com/ru, the NHL's Russian-language site. "Only the best players in the world are chosen to be here, and for me it is very prestigious to get in this group."
Malkin - chosen fifth overall by Team Chara in Thursday's Fantasy Draft - is certainly feeling more at home among the League's best than when he first participated in the All-Star proceedings as a rookie in 2006-07.
"In regards of what do I feel - it probably has to do with confidence," Malkin said. "Due to my English, I can better communicate and feel more confident about my game, so I feel comfortable. Plus I know many players here, not just Russians, so I can interact with them. It's a great feeling to be here with this group."
Malkin needs to employ that improved English more this year, since only one other Russian is joining him in Ottawa and on Team Chara. Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk
was chosen first overall on Thursday, an acknowledgement Malkin said his countryman earned.
2012 NHL ALL-STAR GAME
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"Absolutely not, he deserved it," Malkin said when asked whether he was surprised at the pick. "It's a shame not to say that nowadays he is the best player in the League and having a great season and scoring fantastic goals. Especially with his hands, he will bring a lot of joy for the fans here."
The only other Russian selection -- Washington's Alex Ovechkin
-- will not participate in the weekend's events, citing the three-game suspension handed down by the NHL on Monday for his hit on Malkin's teammate, Pens defenseman Zbynek Michalek
. While Malkin said he understood Ovechkin's reluctance to participate, he did point out another fellow Russian he felt should have been selected: New Jersey's Ilya Kovalchuk
"I think Kovalchuk deserved to be here too," Malkin said. "He is having a great season, he should be here and it's hard to say why he isn't here.
"Since we are in Canada, and starting five were all from Ottawa I think the fans are leaning towards their favorite countryman. However Russians didn't disappear anywhere, if you look at the stats. The Russians are there in the first 10 or 20 best players of the League."
With a January that saw Malkin rack up points at a feverish pace - nine goals and 15 points over a nine-game stretch - there was little doubt about his place in Ottawa. But during a relatively slow start to the season, in which he scored just 10 goals in his first 20 games, Malkin admitted nothing was guaranteed.
"At the beginning of the season I was a little nervous, protecting my knee a bit and wasn't as active playing on the boards as I do now," Malkin said. "First couple of games there was still a danger of how my knee would react and I was not as confident about it as I am now."