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Evgeni Malkin: The 2008 NHL MVP?

When Evgeni Malkin was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins with 2nd overall pick in the 2004 NHL entry draft, all signs pointed to a difficult start to his NHL career.

First, Malkin was joining a Pittsburgh team that had an aging arena, had already gone bankrupt and was on the verge of relocation. Then there was the NHL lockout that cancelled the 2004-05 season, which would’ve been Malkin’s rookie year. After the end of the lockout, Malkin and the Penguins luck began to improve, as they one the most wide open and significant NHL Draft lottery in a generation, by snagging the first overall pick, which became Sidney Crosby.

Despite having to play in his native Metallurg Magnitogorsk team in Russia for one more season before being allowed to play in the NHL, by 2006 the Malkin-Crosby duo was a force to be reckoned with in the league. Crosby scored a league high 120 points (36 goals and 84 assists), the most ever by a teenager, and Malkin poured in 85 points (33 goals and 52 assists), and propelled the Penguins to a 5th place finish in the Eastern Conference standings and their first playoff birth since the Mario Lemieux era. Both stars were rewarded for their stellar play with end of the hardware: Sidney Crosby winning the Heart Trophy for league MVP, and Evgeni Malkin winning the Calder for Rookie of the Year.

The 2007-2008 season held great promise for the Penguins as they were expecting to improve on their first round play-off loss to the Ottawa Senators the year before. But on January 19, Penguins fans were in a panic as they saw their captain and league MVP Sidney Crosby sidelined with a right ankle injury. While many thought this could spell the end to the Penguins season, Evgeni Malkin saw it as an opportunity to prove himself as a leader of the team.

Malkin simply tore up the league during Crosby’s absence of 22 games and the Penguins were nearly at the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Malking finished with a team leading 106 points( 47 goals, 59 assists), and finished 2nd in the league behind only Alexander Ovechkin. The Penguins wound up second place in the Eastern Conference, a tremendous accomplishment considering they were without the best player in the league during a large stretch of the second half of the season. Considering how much the Penguins improved without their Captain, Evgeni Malkin’s stellar play throughout the season should garner him serious consideration for MVP honours.

Although Alexander Ovechkin finished first in the league in scoring with 112 points and an impressive 65 of those being goals, Malkin’s achievement in leading a team through adversity to one of the best records in the NHL stands alone. While the Penguins did have great performances from other player’s such as Ty Conklin’s unexpected great goaltending, they are first and foremost an offensive minded team, and without Malkin they would’ve struggled to make the play-offs, let alone finish 2nd in the East

Malkin, always modest in his self assessment, was quoted as saying “I still have chances to become the MVP this season, however I am sure that Alexander Ovechkin is the best player in NHL this season and he will win this award.” But come June, it could very well be Malkin holding up the Heart Trophy as league MVP.