Much has been written about Evgeni Malkin (PIT), the Russian phenom said to be the best player in the world not playing in the National Hockey League. And following his performance in the opening game of the 2006 WJC against Sweden, a 5-1 victory, the phrase ‘man among boys’ would seem to be more fact than fiction.
At 6’3, 185 pounds, Malkin continues to impress onlookers with his physical stature and dominating presence. Against Sweden, he brought the sellout crowd at Prospera Place in Kelowna to its feet on a number of occasions. He skates with an effortless fluidity while possessing tremendous acceleration. The Russian coaching staff demonstrated it is not shy to use Malkin in all game situations. He looked particularly dangerous offensively in four-on-four situations.
Chosen second overall by the Penguins in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, behind countryman Alexander Ovechkin (WAS), Malkin has since been a focal point in the hockey world, particularly among the clamoring media. He will celebrate his 20th birthday on July 31, yet Malkin maintains a calm demeanor, seemingly resigned to constant attention. He demonstrates poise and professionalism, a level of patience that speaks to his maturity and composure.
Malkin has elected to remain at home for the 2005-06 season, playing in the Russian Super League with Mettalurg Magnitogorsk. The team is being coached by well-known Canadian Dave King, who has coached three NHL teams, who suggested in a pre-tournament interview with the IIHF that “Malkin is the best player in the (Russian) league. He is like a throwback to the old days when players played for the love of the game.”
This season, Malkin has represented his country in the Rosno Cup, is leading the national junior team at the WJC in Canada and is slated to play for Russia at the 2006 Olympics in Italy. He says the Pittsburgh Penguins are in his plans for the 2006-07 season.
HF: How are you feeling now after the travel and after arriving late to join your team in Canada for the WJC?
EM: I feel very good because the coaches have not put a lot of pressure on me. On the first three days in Canada, I rested and relaxed. And I am very pleased with our game tonight.
HF: Do you feel there is pressure on you to live up to the expectations placed on you for the WJC?
EM: I feel very good and am trying to avoid reading about what the media expects. I play my own hockey and understand there is pressure there. However, I want to stress that I am most comfortable playing my own game. That is what it boils down to.
HF: Were you surprised by the reception you received from the Canadian fans tonight?
EM: I was a little bit surprised and very pleased. I know hockey is very popular in Canada and the people are very knowledgeable. I am pleased that the people recognize me and it is very helpful on the ice.
HF: How are you enjoying the opportunity to play for Dave King with Mettalurg this season?
EM: I get a lot of ice time with my team. I respect Dave King very much because he is a very knowledgeable coach. I am pleased he is coaching me and he is assisting me to be ready to enter the NHL next year.
HF: Are you aware of how the Penguins are playing this year, aware of their struggles? Will we see you there next season?
EM: I haven’t seen any games at all, because they are played very late at night. The results are translated to me. I know it is a very young team, being built around (Sidney) Crosby. I know they have been losing games by only one and two goals. I am looking forward to playing there next year and I think it will be a much better team as time goes by.
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