Prospect Anton Zlobin Should be Evgeni Malkin’s Left Winger


Jan 5, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins left wing James Neal (middle) celebrates with left wing Jussi Jokinen (left) and center Evgeni Malkin (right) after scoring a goal against the Winnipeg Jets during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

While it remains almost absolutely certain the Pittsburgh Penguins will attempt to retain forward Jussi Jokinen – after what was a fantastic year for him – there’s a feeling he may seek a substantial payday.

And right now, there’s a shortage of money in Pittsburgh’s cap space.

Jokinen has said that he “really enjoyed” his time with the Penguins, and that he hopes he “can be back” next season, but also recognizes the organization has “a lot of decisions” to make this summer – per Sam Kasan of the Pens’ website.

Jokinen’s contributions on the second-line, and for the team in general, have been far more than the franchise probably anticipated, considering he was acquired for a mere late-round draft pick. But depending on how coveted he is – which he will be – and how much salary he’ll demand, it’s extremely likely Pittsburgh will go another route.

Jokinen was a tremendous asset, but he can be replaced.

Despite missing 22 games this past season, Evgeni Malkin showed he’s morphed into more of an all-around player. Not suggesting this is the reason, but part of it probably has to do with the fact he plays with Sidney Crosby, who is a pass-first coordinator. And it’s evident Malkin’s nearly replicating Crosby’s style because of his shot total.

This past campaign, Malkin took just 191 shots in 60 contests, which may not seem small, but compared to his other seasons, it is. From 2007-10, Malkin fired an average of 277 shots-per-game, and for the 2011-12 season, he totaled 339. Following the 2010-11 season, Malkin slung 182 shots in just 43 games, which is nine short of this last season’s total in 17 less tilts. That’s a significant drop-off.

So, what does this all mean? Well, he’s more inclined to dish to his buddy James Neal than snipe nowadays. And given those observations, Malkin just needs pure scorers on his line – which is why Jokinen was a perfect match. And that’s why prospect forward Anton Zlobin is too.

love the outlook on Zlobin. I wrote he should be on Malkin’s line a while ago, and after seeing him dominate during the Calder Cup playoffs for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, it only boosts my point.

Although Zlobin was up-and-down during the regular-season, he’s been a lightning rod in the playoffs – not to mention as clutch as they come. Potting three game-winners and recording seven points (4G, 3A) in just eight games, Zlobin’s served as a major contributor towards WBS’s Cup run, and could thrive in the NHL in Malkin’s pairing.

Selected by Pittsburgh in the sixth-round (173rd overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Zlobin was a steal. The year following him being drafted, Zlobin compiled 91 points (29G, 62A) in just 61 games while playing for the Val d’Or Foreurs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). And in the season prior, he buried the game-winning goal to lead the Shawinigan Cataractes to a 2-1 overtime victory over the London Knights for the Memorial Cup Championship.

Zlobin has a right-handed shot – something that’s needed on Malkin’s line. A diligent puck-handler and shoot-first mentality, Zlobin just simply knows how to put the biscuit in the mesh, which is what Jokinen did. And because Zlobin’s future is bright, accompanied with his low salary, he’s the perfect candidate to make the team next season.

If you’re weary about his inexperience, don’t be. Pens’ fans all saw how productive Brian Gibbons was, and for that matter Jayson Megna. In time, I think you’ll see Zlobin transitioning into one of the better goal-scorers in the NHL.

Of course, Pittsburgh could always try and bring back Jokinen. But, I hope they exercise caution, because players who receive a bulky check tend to tail-off the following year. And with Jokinen arguably looking for more than a one-year deal, it may be in Pittsburgh’s best interest to just let him walk.

Zlobin is the future. It’s time to start his engine.