MONTREAL -- It seems like a logical question and, at the very least, worth asking.
Is Evgeni Malkin
the best player in the National Hockey League?
After all, Malkin leads the NHL in scoring with 70 points at the All-Star Break - 10 points more than second-place Sidney Crosby
(60). Malkin also leads the league in assists with 51 - eight more than the next best player.
Of course, Malkin brushed off the idea in his usual humble manner.
“No, I’m not best,” said Malkin, who will start the All-Star Game for the Eastern Conference. “I don’t think I’m the best player.”
“I personally don’t think there is such a thing as the best,” Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara said. “There are guys on top of the rankings and, for sure, I think Evgeni is one of the better players in the league.”
Malkin has staked out an early lead in pursuit of his first Art Ross Trophy. He nearly took home the hardware last season when he tallied 106 points (47G-59A), but finished second. This year, Malkin has staked out an early lead on the competition.
“I’ll try (to win the Art Ross),” he said. “It’s good for me.”
Malkin is a double threat on offense. He has a hard slap shot and acute accuracy to be a top-notch sniper. Malkin also has the vision and playmaking skills to be a great setup man in the league.
|Photo by Getty Images |
“He has a lot of skill,” Chara said. “He can make things happen on the ice and it looks very natural for him to do things that other players wouldn’t do. He’s willing to take risks, which is always dangerous for a defenseman to play against.”
“He’s big and fast,” Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. “He shoots the puck really well. He sees the game really well. He’s obviously really dangerous.”
Malkin’s greatest asset may be his competitive spirit. He skates hard, fights for pucks and will take the punishment necessary to make plays with the puck. When Malkin is inspired, he takes his game to another level and is practically unstoppable.
So how do you stop him?
“I always try to take away his time and space and play him hard,” Chara said. “You have to always be aware of him. Guys like that skate all over the ice; they always try to find open ice where they can work things. You have to have your head on a (swivel) and look for him.”
“A couple teams have players that do something special almost every night,” Lundqvist said. “You just have to make sure that when you play those guys that everybody is aware that they’re on the ice, play hard and don’t take any chances because they’re pretty fast and will make you pay for mistakes.”
Every aspect of his game works so well for him. He controls the puck and has great vision of the ice with passes he makes. The hunger for the puck and for goals drives him all the time. He has everything. - Alex Kovalev
Malkin came to the NHL as a bashful 20-year old from Magnitogorsk, Russia. He had to adapt to a new country, environment, team and language. Luckily, he found himself a mentor in veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar.
“I think it’s Sergei Gonchar,” Malkin said of the most influential player on his career. “He’s helped me a lot. He helped me buy a house. He helped me live in the USA. It’s Sergei. He calls me and we talk. He’s helped me at any time. He’s a great guy.”
Malkin has matured in third season with the Penguins. The shy Russian is getting more comfortable not only on the ice but with the attention of being a high-profile athlete.
“I’m OK; It’s my third year,” Malkin said. “I’m not nervous. I’m comfortable. Not big deal. It’s just (easier).”
Even though his career is in its infancy, Malkin has compiled 99 goals and 162 assists for 261 points in 208 career games. At only 22-years old, Malkin still has plenty of room to improve and hone his craft. He can only get better, which is a scary thought considering he may already be the best player in the NHL.
“Every aspect of his game works so well for him,” former Penguin Alex Kovalev said. “He controls the puck and has great vision of the ice with passes he makes. The hunger for the puck and for goals drives him all the time. He has everything.”