Pens' Dilemma: What to Do With Evgeni Malkin?

Don AndrascikContributor IJuly 31, 2010

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 23:  Forward Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins waits for a face off against the Ottawa Senators on December 23, 2009 at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Since today happens to be Evgeni Malkin's birthday, I thought it would be fitting to put the spotlight on him. 

So I asked myself, where does Geno fit into the top six now?  It's one of the biggest questions heading into the Pittsburgh Penguins' training camp. 

His performance last season wasn't the best of his short career, but I think the experience he gained from last season will be valuable to his future success.

There was a ton of pressure to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. The odds of winning the Art Ross and Conn Smythe in the same season are pretty rare. That is a lot to live up to in terms of expectations.

I thought he handled being under the microscope well.  I think there were a lot of contributing factors to his performance last season. 

The good news is that a new season is on the horizon and I feel that it won’t be long before he is the Geno we all know him to be.  So where does Malkin fit into the top six best?

It’s not an easy question to answer.  One factor is where will Jordan Staal end up?  I think it’s fair to say that Staal has earned a spot as a top six forward.  He had a horrible sophomore season, but has been consistent the last two seasons and looks to be even more of a force this season. 

I would assume that Staal would be the number two center in the top six.  His face-off numbers are much better and Staal is more effective playing center rather than wing.  Even though he’s a two-way center, he will add a little more of an offensive surplus with more playing time.  He plays smart hockey and finds himself in good positions to score. 

Putting  Malkin on the wing on Sidney Crosby's line makes a lot of sense and I would back this move 100 percent.

  He owns one of the best one-timer cannons from the right wall in the league.  But how  will the Pens run the two-headed monster as a consistent line?  There are both pros and cons to this scenario, but it could work. 

We’ve all heard the argument that Crosby needs an elite winger. In Malkin, you have a forward that is more than capable in filling that void. 

The two-headed monster will be more effective once Sid and Geno establish their roles on the line. 

They need to determine who is going to be the sniper and who is going to be the playmaker.  When they play together, they have a tendency to over pass and over think what they are doing. 

Both have proven that they can pile up goals over the course of the season.  So picking out who will have that role will be a hard one to determine.  The both have great playmaking abilities as well.  The possibilities are endless putting these two together on a line. 

More time together equals more chemistry and that will only make them more feared around the league.

L oading up does have its benefits. 

The top six could be one of the craziest games of musical chairs on record once training camp is underway. 

I’m sure Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has all sorts of configurations ready to go as we speak.  There are still a few things that need to be determined in terms of the offense before it is decided where Malkin will play in the top six. 

Will Penguins GM Ray Shero sign a free agent forward?  Will Eric Tangradi be ready to step into the lineup?  If he does, will he be a top six forward? 

M att Cooke and Pascal Dupuis are both more than qualified to handle a top 6 forward duty.  They could both round out the top 6 and leave Tangradi to play with the bottom six.  This could prove to be beneficial.  Just ask Jordan Staal how that’s worked out. 

Six weeks from now we will start receiving answers to these questions and the roster will be starting to take shape.

I hope that Malkin is having a wonderful, relaxing birthday and summer. 

We will need him to be rejuvenated in order to be the old Geno.