Alexei Morozov. (CP handout photo)
That begs the question of just how well Alexei Morozov would be doing in the NHL right now given that he led all Russian Super League scorers last season, including Malkin and Semin. And he leads the Super League in scoring again this season with 48 points (26-22) in 32 games.
"I follow those guys that have gone from the Super League to the NHL this year," Morozov told The Canadian Press from Moscow on Wednesday. "It's really interesting for me to see what Malkin is doing, playing for the NHL team where I was before (Pittsburgh).
"Those guys (Malkin and Semin) are doing well and I think I have a good chance of doing some good things in the NHL as well next season. I will be 30 years old, I feel really good, I'm in great shape and I have a lot of confidence."
He almost joined his compatriots back in the NHL this season. There was interest from several teams and Morozov agonized before finally agreeing to go back to Ak-Bars Kazan for a third straight season.
"That was a really tough summer for me," said Morozov. "I had a tough time deciding what I was going to do. I had some NHL teams who were interested. But I have a good relationship with Ak-Bars. ...
"It was a tough decision but I decided to stay here one more year with Ak-Bars."
He doesn't regret his decision - his team leads the Russian standings and he's again the top scorer. But he gave every indication Wednesday that he's ready to come back to the NHL if the offer is right. He'll be an unrestricted free agent and available to the highest bidder.
"In my conversations with Alexei, it's clear that he's really eager to perform at the level that he's performed at in the Russian league, in the NHL next season," his agent Jay Grossman said from New York.
The Penguins chose Morozov 24th overall in the 1995 NHL entry draft and he made the team as a 20-year-old in 1997-98. He put up 219 points in 451 NHL games, all with Pittsburgh, including 50 points in 75 games his last season before the NHL lockout.
"The first few years in Pittsburgh I was a young kid, I didn't speak any English, I didn't understand at all what was going on around me," said Morozov. "I wasn't very good defensively. The first few years were tough for me."
As his game improved, he felt his ice time didn't.
"Some years it was tough because I was a right-winger and we had (Jaromir) Jagr and (Alexei) Kovalev ahead of me, they're superstars," said Morozov. "I didn't have much ice time, not like I have here in Kazan. Everybody knows you can't show what you can do if you don't have the ice time."
What was supposed to be a one-year sojourn to Ak-Bars during the NHL lockout has lasted three seasons. For starters, he's making big bucks. He wouldn't say how much, but it's believed to be in the US$3.5-million range, tax-free.
"The money is good here," was all Morozov would say.
If he decides to come back to the NHL, he'll be returning with more experience and polish, someone with the confidence that he can be a front-line player in the best league in the world.
"I've learned a lot," he said.
Just where he lands in the NHL is a question he can't answer. He'll hit the market with an open mind.
"I can't say where I want to play," said Morozov. "Last summer I had a couple conversations with teams. I know they wanted me. But next year who knows whether they will want me. We'll see next summer, I'll be open to having conversations and we'll decide from there."