Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel Image by: Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
A two-point night on Sunday propelled Evgeni Malkin into fifth place among Russian scorers in NHL history. How high can he climb in the coming seasons?
In a career that has seen countless brilliant displays of offensive ingenuity, Evgeni Malkin’s two points on Sunday against the Dallas Stars aren’t going to stand out. We can safely assume that neither will make the post-career montage that will run upon his eventual induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The first point, an assist on a power play goal, wasn’t exactly the type of play that lifts fans out of their seats, nor was the second, an empty net goal that sealed the deal for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they took over the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.
However, while not visually stunning, the two points couldn’t have carried much more statistical significance. You see, Malkin entered the contest with 917 career points, a total that put him one shy of matching Pavel Datsyuk’s NHL output. And that’s important because Datsyuk, who recently departed the league in favor of a return home to continue and likely finish his career in the KHL, entered Sunday as the fifth-highest scoring Russian player in NHL history. When Malkin registered his assist, though, the fifth spot among Russian NHL greats was one that Datsyuk had to share. And the empty-net goal was the tiebreaker — the tally made Malkin the fifth-highest scoring Russian in league history.
That Malkin came into the contest trailing Datsyuk and left leading the ‘Magic Man’ comes as little surprise, of course, if only because the Penguins star is hotter than a firecracker and on a run the likes of which few players have experienced in the modern era. Entering Sunday’s action, Malkin had 24 goals and 49 points in his previous 29 contests. He left the game with 25 goals and 51 points, a full season’s output for the vast majority of players who step foot on NHL ice, in just 30 games. Malkin has been almost unimaginably lethal for the better part of the past three months, too, far and away the league’s leading scorer since the first day of December and now just one point behind fellow Russian Nikita Kucherov for top spot in the Art Ross Trophy race.
At his current pace, Malkin will finish this season with 100-plus points, meaning another dozen games to add about 16 points or so to his total. Even by a modest estimate, he can finish the current campaign with 930 career points, adding 11 to his current point total and extending the gap between he and Datsyuk. But Malkin hitting the 930-point mark would be significant for another reason as well – it would put him exactly 99 points shy of moving another rung up the NHL’s Russian scoring ladder. And after climbing into fifth among Russian scorers and into a position to eye up fourth, one has to wonder where exactly Malkin might finish on the all-time list among his fellow countrymen and whether he can become the highest-scoring Russian player in NHL history.
The good news for Malkin in his pursuit of top spot among Russian-born players is that, for the most part, he’s not going to have to hit moving targets, which is to say that three of the four players ahead of him on the all-time list are retired. In fourth spot is Alex Kovalev, who ended his career with 430 goals and 1,029 points over a 1,316-game NHL tenure. Alex Mogilny is the third-highest scoring Russian in league history with 473 goals and 1,032 points in 990 games. Meanwhile, Sergei Fedorov holds down the top spot with 483 goals and 1,179 points across his 1,248-game career. And given his rate of production and the time remaining on his current deal, it would be a safe bet to suggest that Malkin surpasses all three before he hangs up his skates.
If Malkin were to finish this season with 930 points — again, that’s a conservative estimation — he would enter next season trailing Fedorov by 249 points. Thus, surpassing Fedorov by the time his current deal in Pittsburgh is up would require Malkin to average 63 points per season over the next four campaigns. For some, that might be a 50-50 proposition. For Malkin, four years at 63-plus points is a near guarantee given he’s healthy and the league doesn’t drop another lockout on us.
Only three times in his entire career has Malkin had fewer than 63 points in a season — 2010-11, 2012-13 and 2015-16, each of which were seasons heavily impacted by either injury or a work stoppage — but even then there has only been one four-year stretch in which Malkin has failed to register at least 249 points. That came from 2012-13 to 2015-16, with Malkin registering 233 points in 217 games, though the start of that run was hindered by the lockout-shortened campaign and the final season saw Malkin skate in just 57 contests. But a safe estimate, healthy or not, would see Malkin register about 70 points a season for the next four years. And 280 points by the time his deal is up would see Malkin nearly 30 points clear of Fedorov.
Where things get tricky for Malkin in his pursuit of tops all-time among Russian scorers is that the No. 1 spot is almost assuredly going to be the lone moving target. Some likely noted that Kovalev, Mogilny and Fedorov took up the fourth, third and first spots on the all-time list, meaning second spot, held by Alex Ovechkin, wasn’t listed. That’s because pinning down Ovechkin’s career total is difficult. He’s basically a lock at this point to surpass Fedorov — Ovechkin trails Fedorov by 72 points and he has three seasons remaining on his contract — which means his total come the end of 2020-21, the final campaign of his current deal, is tough to estimate. About 75 points per season over that span would be a safe estimate, which would take him to roughly 1,400 points for his career. And at that point, the gap between Malkin and Ovechkin may very well come down to longevity.
It’s difficult to say what Ovechkin will choose to do when his contract comes up, whether he’ll decide to remain in the NHL or follow the Datsyuks and llya Kovalchuks who left the league behind in favor of the KHL. Leaving the NHL behind, of course, would halt his climb while Malkin continues his pursuit, chipping away at the nearly 200-point gap that Ovechkin has opened between the two players. But Ovechkin remaining stateside would all but ensure Malkin is held out of the top spot as inarguably the two greatest Russian scorers in NHL history play out the remaining years of their respective careers.
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