After a long summer of working tirelessly to strengthen his right knee and improve his overall conditioning for the upcoming season, Evgeni Malkin
is happy to be back in Pittsburgh with his teammates.
“I feel good,” he said. “When I come to start training camp and go through the testing, I feel pretty comfortable.
Malkin’s knee – which suffered ligament damage in a collision with Buffalo’s Tyler Myers on Feb. 4 and forced him to miss the remainder of the 2010-11 season and playoffs – is not quite at 100 percent.
But there’s no lingering soreness in the knee, which Malkin will outfit with a brace for stability – and the gifted Russian center is literally counting down the days until the Penguins’ season opener.
“My knee is 90 percent ready,” he said. “But we have time. It’s 20 more days till the start of the season.”
Head coach Dan Bylsma said he heard a slightly different version of events from Malkin.
“He didn’t tell me 90 percent – he said, ‘I’m good, coach,’” smiled Bylsma.
While Malkin has never been so committed to getting healthier and wanting to do well, training camp will still be a bit of an adjustment period for him regardless of how good he feels, as he has not practiced or played with the team since he went down in February.
“He’s worked very hard and has been very diligent, but he’s also going to be taxed every day now with contact and with other people around him,” Bylsma said. “He still has to go through that and that’s different than a guy who hasn’t had his injury.”
It’s also Malkin’s first time dealing with such an injury, so he’s unsure how his body will respond when the intensity rachets up. But he’s controlled everything he can and is anxious to meet the challenge with renewed energy and determination.
“This is the first time I’ve had a big injury with my knee,” he said. “But it’s hockey. All guys have injuries and have surgeries. But I had a good summer and I think I’m ready.”
Once the 25-year-old works through the initial adjustment phase, Bylsma believes we will see an Evgeni Malkin
that no one has seen before – an exciting thought considering what he’s accomplished so far at such a young age.
“I’m not sure I’ve seen a guy who’s been this confident both on the ice, off the ice, with his teammates and with his surroundings,” Bylsma said. “I’m really excited to go through training camp and get him ready for the start of the season, because I think he’s a motivated guy right now.”
While Malkin would like to return to the point totals he posted in 2007-08 and 2008-09 – 106 and 113 points, respectively – his only concern right now is doing whatever he can to help the team, one he says is a formidable one regardless of who is in their lineup.
“I’m trying to help the team win every game,” he said. “We’re a good team and we have 25 good players, not just me. We have (Jordan Staal
) and (Marc-Andre Fleury
). I’m just going to try to play 100 percent.”
One thing is for sure – Malkin is sick of sitting on the sidelines watching his team go to battle. He’s ready to join the fight.
“I think he watched hockey games and said, ‘If I can get in there, we could be a really good team,’” Bylsma said. “That was his motivation and I think it’s been his motivation this summer. He’s been focused and attentive the whole summer long in terms of getting ready and rehabbing from his injury, about getting ready for the season.
“With him in our lineup, the dynamic changes dramatically for matchups, defensive pairings, power play, in addition to us being a more dangerous team on the offensive side of things.”