It’s been a long strange journey for Evgeni Malkin to 1,000 games. It started with hiding away in Finland in 2006, after making the difficult and emotional decision to leave the Magnitogorsk team of his youth behind and chase his dreams to play in the NHL. Now embarking on his 17th NHL season, Malkin is set tonight in Chicago to be the 370th career skater to appear in the magic 1,000 games played mark.
Heading into his 1,000th game tonight, when Evgeni Malkin reflects back on all of the moments that have happened throughout his career, his first day in the NHL stands out to him more than anything - even more than the three Stanley Cups. https://t.co/ZChBWtEq08— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 20, 2022
It was a journey filled with highs and lows, and not a simple one. A stranger in a strange land, Malkin had to endure getting injured in the pre-season and some self-doubt about whether he belonged or would make it in the NHL.
“I think it’s maybe the hardest moment in my life,” Malkin said. “Because I come to the U.S., it’s all new - the game, practice. I try to work hard every day, and the first exhibition game against Philly I get a bad injury.”
“I think a couple things, like bad things, in my head. Like maybe I need to go back to Russia,” Malkin said. “Because it’s not my game, it’s a hard game, it’s just an exhibition game and it’s already an injury. I called my parents, friends and said maybe I’m not ready to play here, you know? Sometimes I think about this, maybe I’m not strong enough.”
Luckily, Malkin quickly shrugged all that off, got healthy and scored a goal against no less than Martin Brodeur in his first game. From there he was off to the races, and the rest of the league has been marveling at his skills and personality ever since.
“I think with Geno, obviously he’s got all the skills,” Crosby said. “He’s got every tool. He’s got the size, he can skate, obviously his hands are amazing. But I think it’s just his ability to take over a game, and that’s probably more mental than physical. I mean, it’s a mindset. He’s got that passion, that fire, and he can’t be stopped when he gets in that mode. It’s got to be tough for other teams playing against him.”
Here’s a cool tweet - update your files mentally to 1,165 points after Geno’s assist last night on Jason Zucker’s game winning goal. Malkin ranks 17th place in league history for players in points through their first 1,000 NHL games. The company he is keeping on this list is a who’s who of the greatest offensive players of all-time.
Last night Evgeni Malkin moved into 17th place for most points through first 1000 games played. Incredibly productive player. Still can't believe he wasn't on top-100 all-time a few years ago. He and Crosby only active players on list now, McDavid could end up 3rd. @DailyFaceoff pic.twitter.com/03yqysjDL3— Jason Gregor (@JasonGregor) November 18, 2022
For a player who goes under the radar so much, a stat like this is a necessary reminder of just how much greatness Malkin has been putting on display over the course of his career. He was the first Russian to ever win the Conn Smythe trophy, and he is only 14 points behind Sergei Fedorov to take over second place in NHL career scoring by a Russian player. Fittingly, Malkin will join Crosby as the only players to dress for 1,000 games all in a Penguin uniform (until Kris Letang could join the group later on).
This far into his career and hitting a milestone, a content sounding Malkin reflected on his feelings at the moment.
“It’s my second hometown, for sure. This city, this team and fans, it’s in my heart forever,” Malkin said. “No question here. I know I have like a couple bad injuries, but I’ve met lots of nice people here, lots of new friends. It’s an amazing city for sports, not just for hockey, like baseball and football too. I’m enjoying being here for the next four years, just be on one team forever, you know?
“I hope we have a chance to play in the finals again. I play with Sid and Tanger I hope all my life. Happy to be here again. Like, it’s not a question, for sure. There have been more good things (than bad things), for sure. Good memories, and I enjoy being here every day.”
For these past 17 seasons, the Penguins have had reason to enjoy it too.