Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Ron Francis are among three of the names included in the conversation of all-time greatest Pittsburgh Penguins players. At the ripe age of 26, Evgeni Malkin is already considered among the best players to ever don the black and gold. But where exactly does he stand?
Greatness is an ambiguous term. Some players excel as goal scorers or playmakers and others as grinders and tough guys. However, it’s generally the best-rounded players that are remembered for years.
That said, to say Malkin excels in scoring is an understatement. The Russian center has only had one season, during which he was riddled with injuries, where he was held to less than one point per game.
The fact that he's surpassed the 100-point mark three times makes that easy to overlook.
He resembles Lemieux quite a bit when it comes to size and strength. Both men are very adept at using their stature to light the lamp.
There are a lot of scoring statistics that clearly illustrate how alike Malkin and Lemieux are. When the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, Malkin became the first player to lead both the regular season and playoffs in scoring since Lemieux did in 1992.
As the scoring leader in 2009, Malkin was awarded the Art Ross Trophy. His 36 points in that season’s championship victory run were good enough to also win him the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP. The only other player in the franchise to accomplish this was—you guessed it—Lemieux.
A key difference between the two is that Malkin isn’t one to shy away from a hit. He is more than capable of scoring large sums of goals and being his own enforcer.
One of the most remarkable things about Malkin is his consistency. Besides keeping a point per game pace for the majority of his NHL career, he’s been an extraordinarily dependable player over the past six years.
When captain Sidney Crosby was sidelined for a lot of the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, Malkin stepped right up. Just like Francis was able to pick up the slack when Lemieux went down with injuries in the 1990s, Malkin recorded record numbers when the team was without its star player.
Another Penguins great Malkin is comparable to is Jaromir Jagr.
There’s the obvious similarity in their shared ability to find twine. One top of that, both men play a great physical game. Just like Jagr, Malkin has a lot of strength on his frame. When he hits, he hits hard.
Furthermore, both men have great hands. One can watch Jagr and Malkin highlight videos side-by-side to really see how skilled both men are at weaving around droves of defensemen before putting the puck in the net.
So where does Malkin stand among these revered men?
He shows attributes of plenty of different Penguins legends. He has the same knack for scoring that helped put all these men on the map.
While Malkin won’t ever approach the legendary numbers of Lemieux, he’s talented in other aspects of the game that Lemieux wasn’t—mostly those physical aspects.
The consistency Malkin boasts is something that may put him above Jagr in the eyes of some. Jagr is often criticized for inconsistency and not trying every time he steps on the ice. Malkin, on the other hand, shows up and is an integral player every time he laces up his skates.
Malkin possess a healthy mixture of qualities that made past Penguins legends stand out. It’s still early in Malkin’s career so it should be interesting to continue to watch him evolve into a legend mentioned in the same breath as these men.