|Author: Dave Molinari (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)||Date: 06/27/2004
|Many skills make Penguins' top pick special at early age|
|RALEIGH, N.C. -- Mark Kelley, the Penguins' European scout, realized
Evgeni Malkin might be a special prospect when he watched him at the under-18
world championships in 2003. |
Head scout Greg Malone began to suspect it right around the same time.
But Vladimir and Natalia Malkin say they knew years ago. Long before anyone
in the NHL had heard of Evgeni Malkin, whom the Penguins claimed with the No.
2 choice in the NHL entry draft at the RBC Center yesterday.
They were convinced he was a remarkable talent from the moment he stepped onto
the ice in Russia at age 3.
"[I knew] when his dad brought him to the ice and put the skates on his
feet for the first time," said Natalia, speaking through an interpreter.
"At that moment, we both said to each other, 'He'll be a great player one
day.' We saw it right away."
Precisely how great Malkin will be is impossible to predict; after all, he
won't turn 18 until July 31.
His father acknowledged that Malkin already has taken his game to heights no
one -- not even members of what appears to be an extremely close family -- could
"As time went by and he progressed, I knew he was getting better and better
and better," said Vladimir, also speaking through an interpreter. "But,
if I would tell you that I knew the level my son would be playing at now, I'd
"I never would have thought he would achieve such a high level, and I
know that he has the potential to be even better. I can only be very, very happy
for him, and for our family."
And, if the scouting reports hold up, for the Penguins, because they have secured
the rights to a player with the potential to be a force at both ends of the
ice for a lot of years.
Malkin does not have the dynamic goal-scoring touch -- or the outgoing personality
-- of countryman Alexander Ovechkin, whom Washington chose with the No. 1 selection.
Nonetheless, agent Dmitri Goryachkin said Magnitogorsk, Malkin's team in the
Russian Super League, thinks enough of him that it wants to renegotiate the
financial terms of his contract, which has four years remaining.
Goryachkin declined to divulge Malkin's current salary but said it is the highest
of any player his age in the Super League. He also refused to speculate on how
much Magnitogorsk might offer in its bid to keep Malkin in Russia for a few
more years, but a salary of about $1 million seems realistic.
That's below the $1,295,000 ceiling for NHL prospects drafted this weekend
-- and nowhere near the tax-free $5 million former NHL defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky
reportedly is getting for two years in Russia -- but might be enough to tempt
Malkin to remain in familiar surroundings a while longer.
Penguins general manager Craig Patrick said he does not know when contract
talks with Malkin might begin and that "I don't know much about" Magnitogorsk's
interest in bumping up his pay.
Although Malkin did not discuss the possibility of reworking his contract with
Magnitogorsk, he reiterated that he expects to spend the coming winter in Russia
because "I need to pick up some strength and some muscle mass." He
added that he would like to attend training camp, which Patrick said could hinge
on whether Magnitogorsk officials give him clearance.
Whether Malkin's delay in relocating to North America will cost him an opportunity
to realize his goal of playing alongside Mario Lemieux remains to be seen. Especially
when there's every reason to believe the 2004-05 season will be delayed and
shortened, if not wiped out, by a labor dispute.
Malkin described the world under-18 championships this April in Belarus, where
he captained Russia to the championship, as "the brightest moment in my
sporting career because we won the gold medal and I got the award as the best
That also is when Malkin cemented his place as the second-best prospect in
this year's draft. And did a lot to narrow the gap between himself and Ovechkin.
"He moved his game up to the next level, which you wanted to see,"
Malone said. "He moved it up a couple of notches."
If he'd raised it much higher, Malkin might have put it out of sight for his
parents. For while he stands 6 feet 3 and isn't finished growing, he already
towers over his mother and father.
"As you can see, I don't have the physical strength and physical capability
that my son has," said Vladimir Malkin, a one-time left winger for Magnitogorsk
who looks to be about 5-9. "But, when I played, the coaches told me I had
very good hockey sense and hockey vision. I could always give a pass.
"I really like to think Evgeni inherited that from me. Many coaches in
Russia come up to me and tell me that it is more interesting to watch Evgeni
give a pass than to watch him score."
While Kelley flatly predicts that Malkin "is going to be [an offensive]
go-to guy," his versatility is among his most impressive qualities.
"When I watch him like a coach would, I see there are no weak points in
his game," Vladimir Malkin said. "He's very determined. He has good
skating. He's very good defensively. He's a team player. And he creates very
good offensive chances.
"I would dream of having such a player on my team if I was a coach. In
this player, many qualities came together. I'm very happy that he's such a great
player, who has it all together."
And who is more committed to his craft than he was when his father introduced
him to hockey at age 5 and watched it become the consuming passion in his life.
"We couldn't move him from the ice," Natalia Malkin said. "Several
times, we caught him sleeping with his stick, and with his skates on."
While Malkin eventually got over that, he still is young enough to be a bit
intimidated by the idea of moving thousands of miles to pursue a career in North
Malkin's parents share that concern, but they understand how much playing in
the NHL means to their son. And has, almost since that first day he went onto
"Like every parent, it will not be easy to let my little boy go that far,"
Natalia Malkin said. "But I will be very happy for him, because I know
he will be going to where his dream is."
Related Player Profiles: . E.Malkin
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