"The way he's been playing lately, though, he could be a No. 1 center on any team."
Indeed, Malkin would be the No. 1 center on this team if the Penguins hadn't miraculously won the right to draft Crosby three years ago.
Anybody who has seen Malkin in full Lemieux-like mode - and that's who he resembles most when he is at the top of his game - knows he has the wherewithal to carry a team on his back. The danger might come in trying to do too much.
What makes Malkin's new role especially interesting is he has one year left on his first NHL contract. The Penguins plan to start negotiations on a new one this summer.
Which means Malkin can make a serious statement over the next several weeks.
As fate would have it, Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals visit Mellon Arena on Monday. That would normally be a time for Crosby and Ovechkin - the faces of the league - to take center stage.
This time, it's Ovechkin and Malkin, which happened to be the draft order in 2004. Penguins fans were devastated, because their last-place team had lost the lottery and the right to take Ovechkin.
Others saw a silver lining.
David Conte, highly respected scouting director for the New Jersey Devils, told me not to be stunned if Malkin turned out to be every bit as good as Ovechkin.
Monday's Caps-Pens game (Jan. 20, 2008) is nationally televised. This is the excellent chance for Malkin to try to show to the hockey world that
- he can be as good as Crosby (he probably thinks he is better)
- he is worth the same $9+M as Ovechkin, remember, Malkin has one year left on his contract
What can be done to contain him? Assign big d-men like Jurcina to cover him. Malkin can undress anybody, Green included, so the only way to calm him down is to play very physical against him.
Here're the pictures from my last year post, Feb. 18, 2007...
Oops... Where is 6'3'' Malkin?
Juice broke the glass! Just like Ovechkin in the game vs. Avs.