As Evgeni Malkin leaves home (remember that, he’s not flying home) to play hockey in Pittsburgh, fans are abuzz about his KHL tenure. I'm certainly excited to watch him in HD on my tv instead of via online streams on my laptop every other morning.
The stats speak for themselves:
37 games, 23 goals & 42 assists (65 points, 1.76 ppg), +23, 58 PIM, 226 shots, 54.7% on faceoffs, 22:26 avg. TOI
Upon leaving the KHL, he ranks 2nd in goals, 1st in assists, 2nd in points, 2nd in +/-, 1st in shots, and 3rd in faceoff %. These stats are even more impressive when you figure in that he had a very slow start. When Malkin first joined the KHL, his linemates were Dmitry Kazionov and Yaroslav Kosov (you may recognize Kosov from the 2013 WJC Russian team).
|Scoring Geno was Happy Geno|
After a slow start, Malkin was lined up with Nikolai Kulemin and Mats Zuccarello. The line did well, but Sergei Mozyakin eventually joined Malkin and Kulemin to set the league on fire. Mozyakin is currently 1st in the KHL in goals and points. Kulemin is 1st in +/-. The trio was simply unstoppable, especially once they were joined by Sergei Gonchar on the powerplay. Gonchar finished his KHL season 5th in assists with 26.
But alas, it is time to move beyond the KHL and into a shortened training camp and condensed NHL season. No matter how much I clamor and wish for it, Sergei Mozyakin will not appear on Malkin’s wing in a Penguins uniform. So how will this KHL stint affect Malkin?
Malkin is in mid-season form.
- AGREE. He is already a FULL step ahead of everyone in the NHL. Not only did he stay in shape and play meaningful games, he clearly played them at an elite level, even compared to other NHLers playing overseas. Don't forget he also played those games on a bigger ice surface, so his conditioning should be solid. No player is more prepared to hit the ground running than Geno (though Datsyuk does have prettier goals).
Malkin will wear down quickly.
|Speaking in English again may be tough though.|
- DISAGREE. He has played 37 games already, add 48 games in a “condensed schedule” and he’ll finish with 85 regular season games. As Jesse Marshall (@jmarshhh) of Faceoff Factor pointed out, the condensed schedule is only .5 more games per week compared to the original schedule. Also, include the fact that Malkin’s 85 game season began back in mid-September, almost a month earlier than usual. Games played will not be an issue this year more than any other season. One last point on this, the KHL has far less hitting overall, so Malkin has dealt with less wear & tear to this point than usual. If he wears down this season, he's probably going to wear down EVERY season.
Malkin will run away with the scoring title.
- DISAGREE. While he has looked fantastic in the KHL, two factors will weigh against this. First off, though he did play against some very skilled players (and frequently NHLers), there is no question he will be facing tougher competition in the NHL. Second, his linemates will undoubtedly be less skilled in Pittsburgh. Mozyakin and James Neal probably match up well, but Kulemin is certainly better than whoever ends up on Malkin’s other wing.
|10 of 23 goals on the PP. Let him have it.|
- It will be very interesting to see how Malkin is used on the powerplay with Crosby. As I have always been a devout Crosby fan (look at the website after all), I always stood by the idea of placing Crosby on the right half-boards and moving Malkin around. After watching Malkin go to work on Magnitogorsk’s powerplay, move over Sid. Geno was an absolute terror for opponents from the right half-boards and I’m convinced he needs to stay there. Magnitogorsk's powerplay was ranked 1st in the league at 26.1% with 53 powerplay goals in 41 games. It may be time to consider splitting 71 and 87 up and having 2 equal powerplay lines. Another thing to note is Paul Maurice (head coach of Magnitogorsk) frequently gave equal time to both of his powerplay lines despite the first line being far superior. That may have improved their effectiveness and it should certainly be considered when Pittsburgh can trot out a strong 2nd PP line. Perhaps Dan Bylsma can give Maurice a call if things start slow in the NHL.
- Malkin was used on the 2nd penalty kill line and was the first forward out for 5 on 3 PKs. Magnitogorsk's PK is 6th (out of 26) with an 85.5% kill rate. While I don’t advocate heavy usage of him on the PK, it’s time to unleash the best players when possible. Geno looked very comfortable killing penalties and I would love to see him doing it a little in Pittsburgh.
Winger for Geno.
- With Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis locked up as the first line, the spotlight will be on which forward gets a chance next to Malkin and Neal. After watching how the first line played in Magnitogorsk, I think the most important traits to look for are the ability to win puck battles or retrieve the puck from corners and off of rebounds. Malkin and Neal can already score, so they just need someone to do the dirty work. On the Pens roster, I would say Cooke is the best option, but I don’t believe anyone on the roster is really ideal for the job right now.
|Bring him with you Geno!|
- After all is said and done, here's my prediction for Malkin. 29 goals and 41 assists for 70 points in 48 games (1.46 ppg). He'll get off to a hot start, slow down as other players catch up, and then heat up again as the season comes to a close. The scoring race will be a crazy one at the end.
If you have any thoughts/comments/questions about how Malkin looked or was used in Magnitogorsk, please ask and I'll keep adding to this! Thanks for reading!