It's a popular discussion in the hockey world and a dilemma for NHL organizations, the great Russian stereotype. Are Russian players lazy? Do they only care about themselves? Are they as good as Canadians? It's an age old topic that was revamped when Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby were the forerunners in the league and arguably the two best players in the world. But it's the new best player in the world (for now) Evgeni Malkin who is disproving the Russian stereotype.
There have been plenty of instances over the years that prove that the Russian hockey players are a completely different breed than the Canadians, and that they only care about themselves and the money they make. There's also a nasty rumor that they are famous for getting coaches fired.
Sure Ovechkin is a phenomenal hockey player, he scores jaw dropping goals and brings fans out to the game. But when the game is on the line would you really want him on the ice? When first asked this question you want to say yes, but to fully answer the question you need to dive in deeper. Take this year's playoffs for example, sure the Capitals made it to the 2nd round but Ovechkin never really stepped up to the plate and is part of the reason they're not playing right now. Anytime you can take the top seeded team to the 7th game and have them on the brink of elimination it's something special, something Ovechkin should have been all over. In 14 playoff games, Ovechkin scored just 5 goals and had his ice time diminished, Kings forward Dwight King (who few have ever heard of, has 5 goals!) Bottom line was when Ovechkin's team needed him the most, he was nowhere to be found, he has now played 7 seasons in the league and has failed to make it past the 2nd round of the playoffs, his stock, like his ice time is slowly going down.
What has really puzzled a lot of people is why Russian teams with all their fire power have never been able to win medals or be dominant on the World Stage. Canada and the United States can't be that much better than Russia can they? Especially when you can combine Ovechkin, Semin, Malkin, Kovalchuk and Datsyuk some of the top players in the NHL. (2010 Olympics).
Many say it's because they're too lazy or too cocky, they care more about partying than playing hockey. Whatever the reason despite all the fire power the Russian's can cook up they're still unable to crack into the upper echelon of the World rankings.
Then of course you have to look at the NHL entry draft, a lot of teams are hesitant to pick Russian players as there is no guarantee they will leave Russia to come play in the NHL. Now that the KHL is ramping up in Russia, they're throwing large amounts of money to Russians so they will come back home and play in Russia. The 78th pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft, Sergei Andronov has never left Russian, he currently plays in the KHL despite being drafted by the Blues! The Russian players want all the glory but none of the responsibility that goes a long with playing in the NHL.
But they say it takes just one to change people's perspective; queue Evgeni Malkin.
As everyone knows the Penguins were without their star Crosby for the majority of the season. They started the year without him and only saw him a couple of times during the year. Yet they still had a fairly successful season and made the playoffs due in large part to the play of Malkin.
Not only did Malkin have to carry the team in the absence of Crosby, he also was without Jordan Staal, the Penguins virtually went from having the best top 3 centers in the league to having just 1.
Most teams that are dealt multiple injuries, especially to their top players fold up (Sabres, Wild) but credit to the Penguins and Malkin for battling through it. To sum up the Penguins regular season, Evgeni Malkin put the Penguins on his back and took them to the promise land. To be frank Malkin did something I'm not sure the great Sidney Crosby could have done, another thing he did that Crosby wouldn't have been able to do; keep quiet. Not once did you ever hear Malkin complain that he had to do it all himself, or that his team's lack of success was because of injuries. Malkin gave no excuses, when the team wasn't playing well he took it upon himself to play better.
Malkin absolutely dominated the league this year, finishing with 50 goals and 59 assists for 109 points not to mention he only played in 75 games. Steven Stamkos who led the league with 60 goals but had just 97 points played in all 82 games!
Not only did Malkin lead the league in points, he's also nominated for the MVP award and he also led Russia to an IIHF World Championship! Becoming only the second player ever to lead the NHL in scoring and lead the World Championships in the same season! He was also named the MVP and best forward of the World Championship tournament.
After Malkin's amazing season in the NHL and jaw dropping performance, there is no doubt he is the best player in the world right now. He showed he was hungry to win, was willing to battle and do whatever he had to, sure he didn't go far in the NHL playoffs but he went a long way in putting Russia back on the map for the IIHF.
Malkin elevated his game and showed just how special a hockey player he really is, there were stretches during the season where he was totally dominant, no one stood between him and scoring a goal. Evgeni Malkin deserves some major props for what he was able to do this season. He showed a lot of character and showed just how valuable a Russian player can be, not just by scoring goals but by playing a complete game. He was able to do what all great hockey players do, make his teammates better!
He was able to help disprove the Russian stereotypes of them being lazy, he wanted the responsibility of leading his team, he even remained humble during his play. He possessed many qualities that other Russians don't usually show. If Crosby has troubles in the future, Malkin would be more than capable of wearing the "C".
The way Malkin was able to transform the success of his team by putting them on his back is remarkable and should make scouts think twice about skipping over a Russian. You never know who will pay off in the long run, Russian or not!