When Evgeni Malkin goes to the NHL Awards in Las Vegas on June 20, he’ll be awarded the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s top scorer.
But now the Penguins center may be taking home another piece of hardware, as Malkin was named as one of three finalists for the Hart Trophy as league MVP on Friday.
The other finalists are Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos and New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
It’s an honor that Malkin tried not to think about during the season, wanting to focus on team success instead of individual accolades, but it’s one that would mean everything to him with all the work he put in getting himself back to the dominant force he’s proven he can be.
“I think it’s very important for me and myself because most people don’t believe I can play at my level,” Malkin said. “I had a great summer and stayed positive. I don’t think about points. I came back this year and just start playing 100 percent every game. The points continued and kept coming and it’s just a great year.”
Voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (WHWA), the Hart Trophy is awarded annually to the player judged to be the most valuable player to his team. Lundqvist and Stamkos are certainly worthy candidates, but no player has meant more to his club and has done as much for their team as Malkin did in the 2011-12 regular season.
It all began last year, when Malkin suffered ligament damage in his right knee in early February, 2011 and missed the remainder of the 2010-11 season and playoffs.
Malkin worked tirelessly to strengthen the knee and improve his overall strength and conditioning last summer in his native Russia, waking up early every morning to log endless hours at the gym and the ice rink so that he could be, as he said, “his best for the team.”
Malkin returned to Pittsburgh for training camp with a renewed competitive edge and motivation, and it resulted in an incredible comeback season.
Malkin, 25, scored 50 goals for the first time in his career and added 59 assists for a league-best 109 points in 75 games, earning him his second Art Ross Trophy as NHL scoring champion.
Despite missing seven games due to injury, Malkin defeated Stamkos by 12 points – the largest margin of victory for a scoring champion since 1999 – and led the NHL with a 1.45 point-per-game average.
“He’s been a great player this year,” center Jordan Staal said a few weeks ago. “Points-wise you see it, but just taking over games and just having that desire to win every game and score the big goals. He’s done so many good things this year, it’s definitely no question that he should be up for the MVP.”
“He’s a good leader,” added forward Chris Kunitz. “He’s a guy that goes out and plays as hard as he can every night. He doesn’t take off shifts. He definitely carries us through a lot of games just with his attitude.”