Malkin would be a top-line center on just about any team other than the Penguins, but with that duty falling on living legend Sidney Crosby, he gets the luxury of exploiting opponents’ second defensive pairings. While the oft-injured Russian hasn't recorded 70-plus games in a season since 2011-12, his career average of 1.18 points per game speaks for itself. Last season, Malkin fashioned typically robust scoring totals -- 33 goals and 39 assists -- though the alternate captain’s 23 power-play points over 3:40 of average ice time represented a slight dip by his lofty standards. Still, having helped the Penguins to their second consecutive Stanley Cup, Geno remains one of the stars in the league and a justly expensive commodity in the fantasy realm.
When Sidney Crosby and the Pens started off cold last year, Malkin was the only one holding things together in the season’s early months; he scored 23 goals (11 on the power play) and 47 points in the season’s first 47 games before a balky knee and an elbow injury limited him to only 12 regular-season contests the rest of the way. Father Time and chronic knee issues will likely conspire to keep the 30-year-old from enjoying rarefied air for a full season ever again, but he always produces when he’s healthy. He gets protected by the coaches to some degree now, as evidenced by Malkin receiving his highest rate of offensive-zone starts (65.7 percent) and one of his lowest rates of defensive-zone starts (34.3 percent) in his 10 NHL campaigns. There’s some concern that Malkin’s east-west style doesn’t match up well with new coach Mike Sullivan’s blistering north-south pace, but the Russian is still likely to continue operating a point-per-game pace when he’s on the ice.
Although Malkin's scoring rate dropped a bit from its generally hyper-elite level, last year was a fairly typical one for the Russian star -- he still scored more than a point per game, but as usual, injuries limited his final totals, as he only played 69 games. Malkin was clearly not at full strength as the Penguins were bounced in the first round of the playoffs, as he went scoreless in that series, with a mystery injury seemingly to blame. At this point, it's basically a lock that Malkin misses time every year -- he hasn't cleared 80 games since 2008-09. But he's still only in his late 20s, so he should continue offering point-per-game production whenever he makes it onto the ice, and the Pens have made some additions to their forward corps over the offseason that should help take some of the attention off the stars. Malkin's still worth selecting early in drafts, but his injury downside means using a first-round pick on him is a massive risk.
When Malkin started last season with only three goals in his first 22 games, fantasy owners were alarmed. Sure enough, the Russian rallied to net 23 goals in 60 overall games. Still, something was missing from the former Hart Trophy winner's game. Whether it was missing his regular linemate (James Neal) on occasion or was playing through knee pain, Malkin wasn't his dominating self. He entered 2013-14 taking 3.69 shots per game, but averaged more than half a shot less per game (3.18) than his career average. The center has put together just one huge season (he compiled 109 points in 75 games in 2011-12) since Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup in 2008-09. Neal was traded in the summer to Nashville, with Patric Hornqvist expected to take his spot alongside Malkin. It's possible Geno reclaims his elite status at age 28, but he's no longer a sure thing.
Malkin sabotaged more than one fantasy team in 2012-13 with his uneven play and disappointing results. The 2011-12 Art Ross Trophy winner stumbled to just nine goals and 33 points in 31 games. Fortunately, more than half of his point total came courtesy of the power play (4G, 14A). A shoulder injury effectively sapped the threat of his slap shot, limiting the arsenal of Malkin's typical weaponry. After playing a heavy slate of KHL contests during the NHL work stoppage, the star center figures to benefit from a summer of rest even more than other players. There's no reason why Malkin can't rebound with a big season. At 27, he's in the prime of his career.
When knee problems forced Malkin out for a two-week stretch in October, fantasy owners likely cringed. The Penguins forward played well in the preseason and had showed no signs of injury -- and then Wham! Fortunately, his absence turned out to be just seven games and, when he returned there was no one better. Malkin won the Hart Trophy and his second Art Ross Trophy, finishing with 50 goals and 109 points. He led the league in shots (339) and finished second in power-play points with 34 (12G, 22A). The Penguins center averaged 1.45 points per game; 1.59 points with Sidney Crosby in the lineup -- including 16 goals in 22 games -- and 1.40 without Crosby. Fantasy poolies who include shootout statistics will want to take note of Malkin's 8-for-11 conversion rate, as well. The dynamic duo of Malkin and James Neal combined for 90 goals, and, while that number might be difficult to duplicate, expect big things again in 2012-13 from Geno.
Reports on Malkin's recovery from spring knee surgery have been glowing. It appears as though he's in line for a fully healthy season, something the big forward hasn't enjoyed since 2008-09. Pittsburgh could certainly use his immense talent, especially after missing both Malkin and Sidney Crosby for the last several months of the 2010-11 campaign. When the center/winger did take to the ice last season, he rarely exhibited the top skill that earned him Art Ross and Conn Smythe trophies. Malkin finished with less than a point per game (37 points in 43 games) and saw his shooting percentage decline for the fourth straight season (from 17.3 percent to 12.1 to 10.4 to last year's career-low 8.9). Malkin's not the slam dunk he once was, but perhaps his fall might enable to fantasy owners to pick him up in he latter half of the first round or even in the second round. If that happens, be sure to snap him up.
Hearing his name synonymous with Crosby's is a declining trend, for Malkin has created a name for himself. Even though the Russian wunderkind battled through foot and shoulder injuries last season, he still managed to put up 77 points (28G, 49A) in just 67 games. Realize that the upcoming season will be Malkin's fifth, and he has yet to record less than a point per game in any given campaign. Interestingly, Malkin also served 100 penalty minutes last year, giving him a little more value in leagues that honor points for time in the Sin Bin. Provided health isn't an issue, Malkin could return to the 100-point club, once again, in 2010-11.
There are few things in fantasy hockey quite as fun as watching Malkin go off when he's on your fantasy team. Malkin has an uncanny knack of keeping the puck on a string and he's proven more durable than nearly anyone since coming into the league. After missing the first four games of his rookie campaign courtesy of a John LeClair separated shoulder, Malkin has suited up for 242 consecutive contests. He'll play without linemate Max Talbot (shoulder) for at least two months, but "Geno" has shown an ability to score with or without just about anyone. In fact, Malkin played some of his finest hockey when power-play partner Crosby went down with a high ankle sprain in 2007-08. His other current winger, Ruslan Fedotenko, signed a one-year deal at reduced pay in the offseason and the two have shown decent chemistry together. The Penguins will audition replacements for Talbot in training camp. Whoever gets that gig could become a nice sleeper alongside Malkin and Fedotenko.
Ah, if only Malkin had dominated the postseason the way he did the regular season, then the Stanley Cup might have stayed in Mellon Arena after Game 6 of the finals instead of journeying back to Detroit. For fantasy players, however, the regular season worked out just fine for Malkin owners and there’s no reason not to expect a repeat performance this year. Malkin will miss linemate Ryan Malone, but he still has Petr Sykora to work with. Malkin finished second in NHL scoring with 106 points (47, 59) and led the Pens with 17 power-play goals to go along with 23 man-advantage helpers. Downgrade him a notch if your league counts faceoff wins percentage. Malkin had the league’s second-worst mark at 39.2 percent. More importantly, he stepped up big time with Sidney Crosby out when some thought the Pens might miss the playoffs. After an uninspired playoff performance despite 22 points in 20 games, Malkin will look to atone for his postseason play. Count him among the NHL’s top five scorers for 2008-09.
A year ago Malkin faxed two weeks notice to his Russian Metallurg club, hid out in Los Angeles for the ensuing 14 days, and then promptly dislocated his shoulder shortly thereafter during a preseason jaunt to Moncton, New Brunswick. Malkin was then asked to play out of position with the Penguins, moving from center to wing. The results? Try a six-game goal-scoring streak to start the season and a Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie. The 6-foot-3, 192-pound forward proved to be a big target physically for opponents who tried to wear him down and frustrate him. Malkin finished with 85 points (33/52/85) with 16 PP goals and should continue to see plenty of time with Crosby on and off the man-advantage. He did wear down a bit as the season progressed, scoring just four goals in his last 29 games, including the playoffs. Expect improvement from Malkin as he acclimates himself to North American culture.
It all depends upon one's fantasy perspective when discussing the prospects of the upcoming season for Malkin. Is it possible that he puts up first-year numbers like Ovechkin and Crosby? Sure it is. He has great size (6-foot-3, 185) and figures to fill out his frame in the coming years. Malkin finished second in the Russian Super League with 58 points in 53 games (including the postseason) and more than held his own at the World Championships with nine points (3/6) in seven games, including a tournament-best plus-7 rating. On the flip side, however, he knows little English and faces a bigger transition to North American life than did Ovechkin. Also, his coach in Russia and former coach of Lemieux at the 1983 World Juniors, David King, sees Malkin as a two-way player more than just an offensive sniper. As a result, Malkin's probably not worth a No. 1 fantasy pick. As the team's second-line center, he's more apt to pick up power-play points playing alongside Crosby than anywhere else. That said, he has plenty of upside and should be particularly targeted in keeper leagues.