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Has Malkin Peaked?

It’s still mind-boggling to me that the Penguins had the luck to draft Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin. The four have combined to win the Art Ross Trophy 13 times, more than any other team.

At 24, Geno has already accomplished what most players never do in a career. He won Rookie of the Year in 2007, an NHL scoring title, a Stanley Cup ring, and the Stanley Cup playoff MVP. Perhaps a league MVP is missing from that resume, but any player will tell you that’s not worth as much as Lord Stanley.

His 77 points in 67 games last season was a relatively disappointing encore to his league-leading 113 in 2008-09. He’s got a career-high of 47 goals, but that was three seasons ago, with a high of 35 since. His 2010-11 season is off to a relatively slow start, though his four points against Atlanta on Saturday brought him up to 16 points in 17 games this season. At this point in his career, we’d expect him to be getting much better, putting up bigger numbers, and being listed around Crosby on the score sheet. Malkin has fallen out of the conversation when people talk about today’s stars, such as Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and Steven Stamkos.

Malkin was the obvious second overall pick behind Ovechkin in 2004, but with the Penguins off to a relatively slow start, and with Malkin’s numbers dwindling, the 8.7 million a year through the 2014 season could begin to look regrettable. Sure, it’s too soon to tell, but hockey teams generally don’t have the patience for one-time superstars to regain their footing when they’re still in the prime of their career and getting paid millions. If things continue to get worse for Malkin, and if the Penguins struggle to win games, Malkin’s got his name all over a blockbuster trade. That didn’t happen with Lemieux, it happened with Jagr only for financial reasons, and it’s less likely to happen with Crosby though his contract is up in 2013, a year before Malkin’s.

Of Pittsburgh’s four scoring title winners, Malkin seems to be the one who still has something to prove. The franchise would obviously like him to regain his superstar status, but he’ll really need to surpass Crosby in some form or another, otherwise he’ll just continue playing second fiddle. Malkin’s biggest chance, like in 2007-08, is to lead the Penguins to victory when Crosby is out injured.

If Saturday’s performance against Atlanta isn’t a fluke, and Malkin starts scoring goals the way he has in the past, then the question on whether he’s peaked is premature. But for a player to maintain superstardom is difficult, and Malkin seems to struggle with this more than any of his contemporaries.

Ben Sumner writes for Capitals Outsider and Follow him on Twitter @benjaminsumner.

Tags: Pittsburgh Penguins

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