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Author: Brian Coe (http://www.pittsburghpenguins.com/)Date: 05/13/2004
Ovechkin or Malkin? Does It Matter?

There was disbelief across Penguinsland when the results of the National Hockey League draft lottery were announced on April 6. The Penguins had the best odds of winning the top pick in the 2004 Entry Draft by virtue of posting the worst regular season record. But, for the fifth consecutive year and the sixth in the past seven, the team with the best chance of gaining the first selection was left out in the cold.

The Washington Capitals, who finished 29th out of 30 teams in the regular season, leapfrogged the Penguins when their ping-pong ball was pulled from the lottery bin, giving the Caps the first overall pick for the third time in team history.

At that time, the player ranked at the top of the 2004 draft class by virtually every scout in the know was Alexander Ovechkin, a left wing often described as the best player to appear in the draft since Mario Lemieux.

Ovechkin is the total package, combining impressive size (6-3, 200 pound) with exceptional speed and skill. He finished the 2003-04 season with 23 points (13+10) in 53 games with Moscow Dynamo of the Russian Elite League. The then 17-year old also helped Team Russia to the gold at the 2003 World Junior Championships, finishing tied for the tournament lead with six goals in six games. This year he finished tied for second with five goals in the competition while adding 25 penalty minutes and a plus-4 rating.

The NHL’s Central Scouting Service released its final prospect rankings on Wednesday, and to no one’s surprise, Ovechkin was right there at the top of the list. But, according to the Red Line Report, an independent scouting publication, there’s another player who has significantly upped his worth in the June draft.

Evgeni Malkin, a 17-year old Russian center, finished the season with 12 points (3+9) with Magnitogorsk, playing with and against players significantly older (teammate and former NHLer Dmitri Khristich was twice Malkin’s age at season’s end). The 6-3, 186 pound center was 18th on the team in scoring despite being limited to 34 games due to a concussion.

Even more impressive was Malkin’s work against players his own age. He finished second on Team Russia with eight points (4+4) and led the team with 31 penalty minutes in the 2004 Under-18 World Championships, helping his country to tournament gold. It was that performance that prompted the RLR to declare the following:

...Evgeni Malkin was the dominant force in the entire tournament and has not only solidified his #2 overall ranking, but has significantly narrowed the gap between himself and consensus No. 1 Alex Ovechkin. It’s not a matter of Ovechkin coming back to the pack; Malkin has just elevated his game to new levels. A number of teams now have the pair ranked in a dead heat, with some believing that Malkin’s rapid progression and long-term upside make him worthy of the top spot.
As much as we love Ovechkin, it’s not that big a stretch. Malkin is nearly a full year younger and will play in the NHL at nearly 6-4/215 pounds when he fills out, with all the puck skills of a much smaller man and a nasty edge to boot. Watch the way Vinny Lecavalier has been playing in this year’s playoffs and imagine Malkin 5-6 year from now - the comparison seems quite valid.

What at first looked like a losing situation for the Penguins has suddenly gone to a win-win. Who will Pittsburgh take with the second overall pick on June 26? Wait and see.

Related Player Profiles: . E.Malkin
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