After a disappointing season in 2018-19, Evgeni Malkin plans on returning to his top form.
"Last year was not a great year," Malkin said. "I'm not happy for sure. Now, it's a new challenge for me. I want to come back at my highest level. I know I can still play at my top level."
While his 21 goals and 72 points last season are respectable, they aren't up to the standards that Malkin has set for himself during his illustrious career.
At his best, Malkin is a dominant player that can single-handedly take over a game. He's a two-time league scoring champion, one-time league MVP and one-time playoff MVP.
"I want to show to everyone I'm not done," he said. "(I want to show) everything - power skating, stickhandling, scoring, play in the D zone, faceoffs. I just want to come back at my top level for sure."
That's where Malkin's focus was all summer during his offseason training. He brought Alex Trinca, the Penguins' strength and conditioning coach, to Russia and also worked with Besa Tsintsadze, a power skating professional.
From there, Malkin went to Florida - where he has a home in the Miami area - before returning to Pittsburgh a couple of weeks early to start taking part in informal practices with his teammates.
"I lost a little bit of weight and I feel great," Malkin said before jokingly adding, "I hope I'm in great shape."
Malkin's hard work hasn't gone unnoticed by the coaching staff, with head coach Mike Sullivan praising the terrific shape that the franchise center reported to training camp in.
"He's worked extremely hard over the course of the summer to prepare himself for this training camp," Sullivan said. "I know how important it is to him. We really like where his mindset is right now. He's excited to play."
The jump in Malkin's step was evident during the first day of training camp at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. During the opening camp intra-squad scrimmage, Malkin pounced onto a turnover, went in on a breakaway and beat goaltender Matt Murray for a goal that had the crowd cheering wildly.
Malkin had new Penguins Alex Galchenyuk on his left wing and Brandon Tanev on his right. And while it's early, Malkin feels like they already have some good chemistry.
"I like playing with these two guys," Malkin said. "They're hungry, they're young and we want to win every game."
In addition to returning to top form on the ice, Malkin - who is now the oldest player on the roster at 33 years old with Matt Cullen retiring - wants to step up off the ice as well. He said he wants to communicate with Sullivan more and be more of a professional.
"I want to be a leader here," he said. "We have a great team. We have a couple, maybe two, three, four chances to win again. Maybe not many (more) years that I'll play in the NHL. I understand that. I want to just have fun and enjoy it every day."