The Great Malkin: The Most Overlooked Superstar in the NHL

Martin AverySenior Writer IJanuary 31, 2009

Evgeni Malkin may be the most overlooked, overshadowed, and under-rated superstar in the NHL today. At the moment, Malkin, Crosby, and Ovechkin are 1-2-3 in points. Malkin is way out in front with 71, Crosby is second, with 64, and Ovechkin has 60.

Ovechkin is the leading goal scorer, with 33, Malkin is 26th, with 19, and Crosby has 18. Guess who gets most of the attention?

A Google search gets 455,000 hits for Evgeni Malkin, 620,000 for Alexander Ovechkin, and 1,620,000 for Sidney Crosby. Crosby gets about four times as much attention as Malkin. Malkin is Diomedes to Sid's Achilles. Second only to Achilles, Diomedes was considered to be the mightiest and the most skilled warrior in his tribe.

Comparing their goals, assists, and points over the past three years doesn't tell the whole story, since Ovechkin has played thirty more games than Crosby and about eighty more than Malkin.This year, Malkin is the points leader this year but is he considered the top player?

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review recently polled sports writers, asking them who they thought was the top player in the NHL this year, and Ovechkin was the leader. Crosby came in a distant third. Malkin did not even make the top 10.

Malkin has been overshadowed ever since he was chosen second overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. Nobody remembers who was selected second. Everybody knows who was the top pick that year: Ovechkin.

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Malkin's career in the NHL was delayed because of an international transfer dispute. He was drafted in 2004 but couldn't start playing until the 2006-07 season. He captured the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league's best rookie. Playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins with fellow phenom Sidney Crosby, Malkin finished his rookie campaign with and impressive 33 goals and 85 points, leading all first-year players.

In his second season, he was a runner-up for the Hart Memorial Trophy. Nobody remembers who came second. Everybody remembers who won: Ovechkin.

In his sophomore season, when his more heralded teammate and captain Sidney Crosby went down with an ankle injury, Malkin seized the opportunity to lead the Penguins, scoring 44 points in the 28 games Crosby was absent.

In total, Malkin completed the season with 106 points, six points behind Alexander Ovechkin, in the competition for the Art Ross Trophy. When Malkin scored his 200th NHL point, with an assist to Sidney Crosby, the goal was Crosby's 100th career goal and 300th career point—Overshadowed again.

Malkin, Ovechkin, and Crosby should have competed for the Rookie Of The Year Award in 2006. Ovechkin was the first overall selection in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft but, due to the 2004-'05 NHL lockout, he started playing in the 2005-06 NHL season.

Crosby was the first pick of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

Malkin was stuck in Siberia. Crosby was one of the most highly regarded draft picks in hockey history. Crosby and Ovechkin battled all season long for the honour of being named the Rookie Of The Year in the NHL.

Ovechkin won.

Malkin remained in Russia for the 2005-06 hockey season with Metallurg Magnitogorsk because the Russian Hockey Federation refused to ratify a transfer agreement between the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation, forcing Malkin to honor his existing contract with Magnitogorsk.

He finally fled from Russia in a Cold War like defection during Metallurg Magnitogorsk's training camp in Helsinki, Finland.

Metallurg Magnitogorsk had taken Malkin's passport away, but it was given back to him in order to allow him to pass through Finnish customs.

Somewhere at the Airport Malkin met his agent and the two quickly exited the building and wound up at a Helsinki apartment while awaiting Malkin's visa clearance from the US Embassy.

He resurfaced in Los Angeles five days later. Malkin had, by fax, invoked a provision of Russian labour law that allowed him to cancel his contract by giving his employer two weeks notice, which allowed him to sign a contract with the Penguins.

His contract was identical to the contract signed by Alexander Ovechkin before his breakout season last year. When Malkin was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins, he did not speak English.

Malkin is a product of the Metallurg Magnitogorsk hockey school. He made his international debut on the U18 squad during the 2003 U18 World Junior Championships, where he skated on the top line with Alexander Ovechkin.

He made his Russian Superleague debut during the 2003-04 season, working his way up from the fourth line. Malkin has been compared to players such as legendary Montreal Canadien Jean Beliveau, Pittsburgh Penguins player Mario Lemieux, and Swedish star Mats Sundin.

He is a very smooth skater with great passing ability and many experts agree that in a draft without an Ovechkin or Crosby, he would be the first overall pick and get a great deal more attention.

Malkin was named top forward and MVP of the 2006 World Junior Hockey Tournament for the silver medal winning Russian team, which he captained. He earned the first star against the American hockey team in the semi-finals, but team Russia eventually lost 5-0 to Team Canada in the finals.

Less than two months later, Malkin was given one of the final spots on the senior Russian hockey team for the 2006 Winter Olympics, where he helped the team to a fourth-place finish with six points in seven games, and was named the team's best player, despite playing on the third line behind Ovechkin.

He also played at the IIHF World Hockey Championships, where he led Team Russia with nine points. He is one of the very few hockey players to play in all three major tournaments in the same year. His father, Vladimir, was a defenseman for Metallurg Magnitogorsk, and his brother, Denis, was also in Metallurg's hockey system.

Malkin set a modern-day NHL record as the first player to score at least one goal in each of his first six games. No player had achieved this feat since the league's first season, back in 1917-18, when Joe Malone scored at least 1 goal in 14 consecutive games to start his Hall of Fame NHL career.

Magnitogorsk, the magnet mountain city, is in Siberia, on the far side of the Ural Mountains, is halfway between Moscow and Omsk, just north of Kazhakstan, about halfway between Scotland and Mongolia, about as far north as Fort McMurray.

The city produced steel for half the Soviet tanks in World War II, and the MMK Steel factory sponsors the team. It is located by the Ural River in Chelyabinsk Oblast, and has one of the largest iron and steel works in the country. It was named for the Magnitka mountain that was almost pure iron, a geological anomaly.

Magnitogorsk has been called ‘one of the modern wonders of the 20th century as well as a constant reminder of the blunders of modern industry’. It was built from scratch in the southern Ural Mountains as part of the first of Stalin's Five Year Plans.

After the site was selected in 1929, it was built extremely quickly. By 1932 the population had grown to 250,000, most of whom were still living in the original barracks or in tents. Most of the workers were gulag prisoners.

Magnitogorsk was inspired by Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at the time the most prominent center of steel production in the United States, but the original plans changed. Much of Magnitogorsk was built by zeks—the Russian word for slave labour.

Magnitogorsk, which was intended to be manned only partly by forced labour and was originally publicized as the greatest of steel works and a model city for prosperous proletarians.

The steel works emerged, but the model city failed to follow. City inhabitants were subjected to noxious fumes and factory smoke. Magnitogorsk has recently been included in the top 25 Worst Polluted Cities by a survey carried out by the Blacksmith Institute.

Pollutants include lead, sulfur dioxide, heavy metals and other air pollutants. According to the local hospital, only 1% of all children living in the city were in good health. Remote and industrial though it is, Magnitogorsk is a hockey town, steeped in the Russian tradition.

Metallurg was founded in 1950. It won the Spengler Cup in 2005, the Russian Championships in 1999, 2001, and 2007, and European Hockey League championships in 1999, 2000, 2008.

Malkin played one of the best games by any Penguins player since Mario Lemieux's retirement in 2006 - Crosby included - when he had two goals and an assist against Washington. During a frantic 12-minute stretch during the end of the first period and the start of the second, Malkin and Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin made a series of can-you-top-this plays while setting up or scoring five goals.

It's on YouTube. And speaking of YouTube...Guess who gets the most hits on YouTube?

“Sidney Crosby” gets 3,480 hits.

“Alexander Ovechkin” gets 3,010 hits.

“Evgeny Malkin” gets 968.

Evgeni Malkin may be the most overlooked, overshadowed, and under-rated superstar in the NHL today.