When Evgeni Malkin returns to Pittsburgh this week, it won't take a clandestine escape from a Finnish locker room to get him there.
Unlike in 2006, Malkin will be returning to a league he left as reigning MVP and scoring champion. If his half-season stint in the KHL is any indication, he'll be a heavy favorite to defend his titles in the lockout-shortened 2013 season.
Malkin was good in the KHL. Very good. He returned to Metallurg Magnitogorsk, his hometown team, the moment the NHL lockout went official September 15 of last year.
Malkin fared well in his return to Russia, posting near-league leading numbers for high-scoring Magnitogorsk. He led the KHL with 42 assists and was second in goals (23) and points (65) to only his linemate, Sergei Mozyakin (30G, 68 points). You can view his total KHL stats breakdown here.
As the stats demonstrate, Evgeni Malkin was on a torrid pace in the KHL with 65 points in 37 games, which ranked second in the KHL to his linemate, Sergei Mozyakin (68 points). The incredible chemistry he developed with Mozyakin was second to none. Third place in the KHL scoring race was Alexander Radulov with just 50 points, a whopping 15 points behind Malkin and 18 behind Mozyakin.
The two Magnitogorsk forwards were simply dominant on most shifts and much of it was thanks to Malkin’s perfect passes to Mozyakin for one-timers.
Malkin led the league in assists and Mozyakin led in goals as they catapulted Magnitogorsk’s powerplay to first in the KHL at a 26.1 percent success rate. Not only will Malkin bring back his scoring touch and power play success, but he also gained valuable penalty killing time in Magnitogorsk, too. Head Coach Paul Maurice trusted him on the second PK line and he was the first forward out for 5-on-3 kills.
There is no question that Malkin will return in midseason form on offense, and with more defensive prowess than before.
The KHL is a decidedly different league than the NHL, and the bigger ice sheet and softer-hitting style certainly didn't seem to bother Malkin. After carrying a 1.45 PPG average for Pittsburgh last season, Gino scored at a 1.76 PPG pace in Russia.
The compressed schedule for 2013 is going to play hell with anyone's preseason predictions, but it's a good bet that Malkin, who has seen regular game action for the last four months, will be hot out of the gate whenever the season finally gets underway.