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Author: Dave Molinari (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)Date: 05/28/2004
Malkin misses NHL draft combine

TORONTO -- The Penguins expect to interview between 90 and 100 prospects at the NHL's draft combine here before it wraps up tomorrow.

Russian center Evgenii Malkin will not be one of them.

It's not that the Penguins have soured on Malkin, whom they are expected to claim with the No. 2 choice in the entry draft June 26 in Raleigh, N.C. It's just that it's tough to sit down with a guy who's on the other side of the world.

Central Scouting officials report that 106 of the 110 prospects who received an invitation to the combine accepted; Malkin is one of the four who did not.

It's not, however, a negotiating ploy or an early attempt at playing hard-to-get. Malkin apparently is just following the wishes of his team in Russia, Metallurg Magnitogorsk.

Greg Malone, the Penguins' head scout, said that while the Penguins had hoped to get to know Malkin during the combine, they understand why Magnitogorsk officials wanted him to participate in an organized team outing.

"He's one of the youngest kids on the team," Malone said of Malkin, who will turn 18 July 31. "They took the whole team on a vacation, a working kind of thing, and [club officials] wanted him to be part of that.

"[The general manager] wanted everyone to be there. Especially at his age, they figured, 'Hey, it's more important for you to be with the team, be a team player, than to be an individual and be gone.' "

Truth be told, Magnitogorsk's front office probably didn't have to exert any undue pressure on Malkin to get him to stay because many observers are as struck by his team-first mentality as they are by his puck-handling skills.

"The most impressive thing I've seen him do is probably [demonstrating] his whole concept of the team," said Mark Kelley, the Penguins' European scout.

Malkin is almost universally regarded as the second-best prospect in the draft, trailing only Russian winger Alexander Ovechkin. And the consensus is that being a no-show at the combine shouldn't have any impact on when Malkin is taken next month.

Frank Bonello, director of Central Scouting, said Malkin's absence should "absolutely not" cause him to drop in any team's rankings, and Pat Brisson, one of Malkin's agents, echoed that sentiment.

"I don't see it," Brisson said. "He's ranked fairly high."

Malkin hasn't slipped any in the Penguins' rankings, and, from Malone's perspective, isn't likely to simply because he didn't make it to the combine.

"No," Malone said. "No. No. I don't think so."

That's mostly because, while the Penguins are eager to hear what Malkin has to say, they care more about what he can do. And their scouts have seen enough of him in recent years to be convinced that he's worthy of his lofty spot in the draft class of 2004.

"No matter how many kids you meet here, you still go back to find out how he does on the ice," Malone said. "That's what it always comes down to.

"There's a ton of information out there that we're researching and going through, but it still comes down to, 'Can he play or can't he play?' "

As for their sit-down with Malkin, that will have to wait a few weeks. The Penguins plan to interview him -- probably more than once -- in the days leading up to the draft.

"We've already set up a meeting with him as soon as we get into Raleigh," Malone said. "We'll have a little bit of time. We'll meet the kid a couple of times when we're down there."

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