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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Undercover Superstar by @BrianK_PI

To say that Evgeni Malkin's career has been largely out of the spotlight, given the caliber of player he is, would be putting it lightly, especially because Malkin first came to the NHL by essentially disappearing from his Russian team and the world for three weeks before surfacing in Los Angeles. It's impossible to be the face of your franchise when you can call Sidney Crosby, the face of the NHL, a teammate, but even still Geno doesn't seem to get the attention or recognition he deserves.

Because taking in a full appreciation of his career accomplishments, it's a small miracle that Malkin isn't consistently talked about as one of the best in the league. Since TSN began releasing their Top 50 Players poll after the 2009-10 season, Malkin has found himself in the top 3 just twice during that time frame. He entered this season ranked 13th. This is a player with a Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award, two Art Ross Trophies, and a Calder Trophy to add to the collection. One who ranks 7th in goals (309), 6th in assists (488), 4th in points (797), and 2nd in points per game (1.18) since he entered the league. Oh, and he's t-3rd, 2nd, 2nd, and 3rd in those same categories in the postseason over that time frame, to go along with two Stanley Cups and an Art Ross Trophy.

He's a generational talent at center, but in Pittsburgh he'll always be the 1b to Crosby's 1a, and when fans outside of Pittsburgh think "Russian Superstar" Alexander Ovechkin pops into mind first. And injuries have limited Malkin's brilliance, both from missing games and playing hurt, but it still hasn't stopped him from being a productive player. Malkin hasn't played in at least 70 games since winning the Hart Trophy in 2011-12, but he's still 4th in the league in points per game (1.08) since his career year.  He undoubtedly likes staying out of the limelight, and the hockey world has been too willing to oblige when given any reason to focus else where.

Because as great as he is at hockey, maybe blending into the shadows is what Malkin does best. Know who currently leads the Pens in goals and points? If you said Crosby for both, you're only half right. Malkin is 3rd in the NHL with 37 points and only three off Connor McDavid's lead. And while Crosby's torrid goal scoring pace is rightfully dominating headlines, a spotlight needs to be shone on the year Malkin is having as well. He's scoring at a good clip himself, as his 1.19 goals per 60 is the 3rd highest of his career, while his 2.64 points per 60 ranks 5th best. Both rank second only to his Hart Trophy-winning season since the Pens won the Cup in 2009, at a time when scoring has become increasingly hard league-wide. At his current pace, Malkin would finish with 35 goals and 92 points, which would be the 3rd and 4th best totals, respectively, of his career.

Yet he's someone that finds himself apart of nonsensical trade rumors year after year, even though the chances of that ever happening are effectively zero. He's a player who currently ranks 14th all time on the points per game list despite playing in a decidedly more defensive era than the vast majority of the names above him, but one who seems to be judged more relative to Sidney Crosby than the rest of his peers. Both are incredible players who almost assuredly will be first ballot HOFers each, yet while Sidney Crosby is the seeming face of hockey everywhere, Evgeni Malkin remains more the undercover superstar.

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