Pittsburgh Penguins’ center Evgeni Malkin finished the 2018-19 season with 72 points, which for most would be a pretty stellar season. It matched that of fellow Russians Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alexander Radulov, but it wasn’t good enough for Malkin.
“Geno,” as some call him, was disappointed with his performance, despite a respectable total and picking up his 1,000th career point. He was a minus-25 and had 89 penalty minutes. He knew he could be better.
Going into the 2019-20 season, Malkin vowed he would be a better player; and he has been — as of Feb. 19, he has recorded a team-leading 58 points and drastically dropped his time spent in the penalty box. During this time Malkin has been quietly approaching Jaromir Jagr’s numbers as a Penguin.
Numbers Don’t Lie
Sooner rather than later, it will be time to start discussing Jagr as the fourth-greatest Penguin of all time.
In 11 seasons with the Penguins, Jagr collected 1,079 points. For a time, that number was second in team history behind Mario Lemieux. When Jagr left the team after the 2000-01 season, he was second to Lemieux in points, goals, and assists in Penguins’ history.
Jagr has since been passed in all of those categories by Sidney Crosby, who is arguably the greatest Penguins’ player ever. Crosby’s partner in crime, Malkin, has set his sights on the numbers Jagr set.
Malkin picked up his 641st assist on Jan. 12, 2020, against the Arizona Coyotes, passing Jagr in assists by a Penguin. As of Feb. 19, Malkin is 19 points behind Jagr with 1,060. Given the season Malkin is having, it is conceivable that he could pass Jagr in points this year.
Goal scoring is something that both players are very much known for. Jagr posted 766 career goals for third in NHL history; 439 of those came in a Penguins uniform. Malkin currently sits at 409, only 30 back; a number that is achievable before the end of the 2020-21 season.
With those additional two statistics being passed, by the time the final horn blows on the 2020-21 season, all-time Penguin leaders in goals, assists, and points will most likely read 1- Lemieux, 2- Crosby, 3- Malkin, 4- Jagr.
Another important but often overlooked stat that Malkin could pass at any point in the near future is game-winning goals. Jagr is the all-time Penguins leader with 78, Malkin has 72.
Taking Over the Penguins
What made Jagr such an icon in Pittsburgh was not just his great numbers, but what he meant to the team when Lemieux was out of the game, either with injury or retirement.
Jagr became the 14th captain in Penguins’ history prior to the 1998-99 season. Very early on that season the team filed for bankruptcy, and the future was looking bleak. The team slipped into the playoffs as the eighth seed, and with the future of the Penguins on the line, it was about more than just fighting for a Stanley Cup.
Jagr has said that the most important game he ever played in was Game 6 in the first round of the 1999 playoffs. Battling a groin injury against the top-seeded New Jersey Devils, he scored the game-tying and then game-winning goal in overtime to force a Game 7. He collected two assists in Game 7, beating the Devils to win the series and played a huge part in keeping the Penguins afloat as an organization.
Malkin has had to pick up the workload on multiple occasions when Crosby has missed time, and he has been able to do so every time.
During the 2007-08 season, Crosby suffered a high ankle sprain that would have him miss a total of 28 games. In his second season, this was Malkin’s first opportunity to show that he was to be seen as a star. He took the team under his wing and put up 47 goals and 59 assists for 106 points. He was also named to his first All-Star game.
Due to a major concussion, Crosby would miss all but 22 games of the 2011-12 season. Malkin was returning from ACL and MCL tears and went on to put up 50 goals and 109 points, collecting his first Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player, and his second Art Ross as the league leader in points.
The Trophy Case
When it comes to awards, Malkin is usually overlooked, having only won a single Hart Trophy and two Art Ross Trophies. Jagr collected a Hart, as well, but five Art Ross Trophies.
However, there are two pieces of hardware that Malkin has bragging rights with. In 2007, Malkin became the second Penguin to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie. And in 2009, he became the first Russian-born player to ever win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the best player in the NHL playoffs.
The Calder and Conn Smythe are two awards that Jagr missed out on during his career. In his rookie season, the Calder went to goaltender Ed Belfour. During his only two appearances in the Stanley Cup Final, Lemieux was given the Conn Smythe both times.
Of course, winning the Stanley Cup is a team effort, but being a key contributor to winning on multiple occasions gives you some prominence. Malkin again has the upper hand with three cups to Jagr’s two.
Jagr’s career would excel far past his time with the Penguins, playing the first 11, and most prominent, of his 24-season NHL career with Pittsburgh. It is without doubt that his number will be retired in Pittsburgh and he will be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Jagr may have been the most important Penguin for a time, and a spot on a Penguins’ Mount Rushmore is well deserved, but it may be time to start looking at Malkin as the third-best player in franchise history. The numbers, awards, and importance to the team all back up this claim.