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by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

Penguins rookie sensation Evgeni Malkin is one of five finalists for ESPN The Magazine’s NEXT cover athlete.

Each year, ESPN The Magazine’s trademark NEXT issue looks ahead and identifies those athletes whose talent and style will shape the landscape of sports in the years to come. This year, in addition to showcasing the innovations and trends that are changing the games we love, The Magazine has selected five finalists to vie for the prize of NEXT cover athlete: Dwight Howard, Calvin Johnson, Evgeni Malkin, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jose Reyes. 

For the second year in a row, fans can log on to, from Jan. 10-17, to vote on who should be NEXT. The winner of the poll will appear on the cover of The Magazine’s NEXT issue, on sale January 31.

ESPN The Magazine’s 2007 NEXT Finalists:

Evgeni Malkin  Part of a young, promising Pittsburgh Penguins club, Malkin is a Russian rookie who many hockey experts are comparing to Mario Lemieux. He’s a sensation both on the ice and online, where highlight reels of his acrobatic goals are posted and viewed non-stop.

Dwight Howard  The Orlando Magic center is a throwback: a big, imposing force in the middle with the kind of game the NBA hasn’t seen since Shaq entered the league in 1992. In addition to his physical presence, Howard also has the versatility and magnetism that could elevate him from all-star to superstar.

Calvin Johnson  Widely considered the best wide receiver prospect to enter the NFL draft in years, Johnson possesses the size, speed and acrobatic ability that NFL scouts covet. He is expected to be one of the first picks in this year’s draft.

Juan Pablo Montoya  Already an international star from his days in Formula 1, the native Colombian is the most talked-about import in NASCAR history. Montoya’s driving pedigree and worldwide fan base give him the potential to be NASCAR’s first international superstar.

Jose Reyes  The New York Mets speedster made a strong argument on the field last year that he’s the best shortstop in New York. In the coming years, Reyes may well turn out to be the best shortstop in all of baseball.

Previous NEXT cover athletes include Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Yao Ming, Alex Rodriguez and Brian Urlacher. 

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