PITTSBURGH, Pa. - Penguins star centre Evgeni Malkin "probably is already ready to go" for the start of next season following recovery from torn ligaments in his right knee, Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said Monday.
Bylsma revealed some good news regarding the team's other former scoring champion, as well.
He said captain Sidney Crosby has been cleared by doctors for twice-per-day, off-ice workouts, just as he normally would at this point of the off-season.
Malkin, in his native Russia for the summer, is making significant progress in his rehabilitation from February surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL.
The coach reiterated that Malkin was so far ahead of schedule that he perhaps could have played this spring had the Penguins advanced deeper into the playoffs. Pittsburgh lost in the first round in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The absence of Malkin and Crosby was clearly evident in the first round, when the Penguins blew a 3-1 series lead to Tampa Bay. Crosby missed the season's second half while suffering from concussion symptoms.
Bylsma said the team has heard from former Penguins defenceman Sergei Gonchar, Malkin's countryman and former landlord and mentor when he first broke into the NHL five years ago.
"He's never seen Geno working this hard, looking this good and this motivated at this point of the summer," Bylsma said of Gonchar. "So, I expect a real motivated, real focused guy, and a guy whose body and his injury is ready to go. He's really well beyond (ready), so I think he'll be at full-go coming into training camp and really motivated."
Malkin won the 2008-09 NHL scoring title and was the leading scorer in the playoffs that season, as well, winning the Conn Smythe trophy as post-season MVP while the Penguins won the Stanley Cup.
But he dropped from 113 points that season to 77 in 67 games in 2009-10 and only 37 in 43 games — the first time he didn't average a point per game in his career — this past season. Malkin already had a minor nagging knee injury before a collision with Buffalo Sabres defenceman Tyler Myers on Feb. 4 ended his season.
Less than three months after surgery, Malkin was skating and openly campaigned to return to the lineup.
"He was progressing as if that was a real possibility," Bylsma said. "He was doing really well, strength wise, and he was ahead of schedule."
The schedule for concussion recovery is not as linear, as Crosby learned when he experienced a setback after being cleared to skate with his teammates for non-contract drills during the post-season.
Crosby did not play after taking blows to the head in consecutive games Jan. 1 and 5. After a European vacation with teammates in May, he was examined in Pittsburgh before retreating to his home in Nova Scotia for the summer.
"The doctors here cleared him to go home and work out as he normally would be working out," Bylsma said. "He's been working out two times a day and progressing along his normal road of normal summer activity.
"He's got another 2 1/2 months ahead of him doing that."
Bylsma, who last week won the Jack Adams award for NHL coach of the year, also seemed to once again openly campaign for the team to sign free-agent forward Jaromir Jagr. Jagr, ninth on the NHL's all-time scoring list, has spent the past three seasons playing in Russia, but began his NHL career with the Penguins in the 1990s, helping them to their first two Stanley Cup titles.
"If you watched Jaromir play in the world championships, his play down low was outstanding," Bylsma said, adding that he felt the five-time NHL scoring champion could fit into Pittsburgh's system.
Jagr and his agent, former NHL player Petr Svoboda, have expressed interest in a return to the NHL and that the Penguins and Detroit Red Wings are teams Jagr was interested in, among others.
Pittsburgh drafted Jagr in 1990, immediately forming a lethal tandem with centre Mario Lemieux. Jagr won all of his scoring titles and the 1999 Hart Trophy as league MVP with the Penguins, before asking for a trade in the summer of 2001.
He played for the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers before leaving for the Kontinental Hockey League in 2008.
"I've been on record a few times with the media that the attributes of Jaromir Jagr are still really good," Bylsma said. "There are things he can add to our team.
"As far as where he fits in structurally, contract-wise, that's another issue, as well. All of those things are part of the evaluation we've talked about and will continue to talk about the next few days."