After a disappointing finish at the 2005 IIHF World Junior Championship, Evgeni Malkin is in Vancouver, hoping he can help Russia win gold at this year’s tourney.
Malkin, who was originally expected to skip the WJC because of his invitation to the Olympics in Turin, said that he couldn’t turn down the opportunity to represent his nation.
“Of course I knew that it might be difficult for me to play that many games, but you have to realize the national team needs me,” Malkin said through a translator. “I cannot say no, and also I’m an ’86 [birthday], so this is my last chance for me to play at the World Junior level, and with this team.”
The 6-foot-2, 186-pound native of Magnitogorsk, Russia was chosen second overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Malkin is excited about the possibility of playing alongside Sidney Crosby next season.
“Crosby’s a very exciting player,” said Malkin. “I think that he’s a leader on the team and a player that can eventually lead this team to a Stanley Cup, and I’m looking forward to playing with him.”
Malkin was supposed to come to Pittsburgh this season, but instead decided to stay in his native Magnitogorsk to play another season with the junior team there. The center, who’s been compared to Vincent Lecavalier and Mats Sundin, has no regrets about his decision.
“I would have liked to compete with those guys [Calder Trophy candidates Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin],” said Malkin. “But as you know, I’m playing this year in Magnitogorsk, and will come to the NHL next year.”
The 19-year-old says he’s excited about Metallurg Magnitogorsk’s chances of capturing a Russian Super League title.
“I’ve got no regrets [about staying]. We’ve got a great team in Magnitogorsk, and I enjoy playing there. Also, I’m getting a lot of ice time, I’m playing on the power play and penalty kill, and I’m improving as a player.”
“My main goal and a dream of mine from the beginning of the season was to win. We’ve got a very good skilled team in Magnitogorsk and I will try my best to give something back to my fans in Russia. It is my dream to win the Russian championship.”
In 33 games with Magnitogorsk, Malkin has racked up 15 goals and 21 assists. Here in Vancouver he has four goals and four assists, second to only the USA’s Phil Kessel heading into the semi-finals.
As for Russia’s hopes of World Junior gold, Malkin maintains an optimistic attitude.
“I don’t think this year’s team is stronger than last year’s. I would even say that last year’s team was stronger than this year’s, but perhaps this year’s team is putting in a better effort. Last year we were second, and we’ll see what this team is capable of.”
Be prepared to hear this kid’s name a lot next season, as he’ll be showing up on the scoresheet alongside Sidney Crosby on a regular basis.