A new ranking from ESPN has stirred up emotions among NHL players and fanbases, especially in the Pittsburgh Penguins. ESPN asked a panel of ”more than 50 broadcasters, analysts, reporters, and editors” to rank the 100 best players based on how they’ll perform this season.
The criteria for the list means that players who are out injured not expected to return, are not there.
The ranking was topped by—big surprise—Connor McDavid, followed by Cale Makar, Nathan McKinnon, and Jack Hughes. Auston Matthews was fifth, and Leon Draisaitl sixth. But what really caught the attention of the fans was Evgeni Malkin’s placement. Or should we say, not-placement.
The Pittsburgh Penguins superstar didn’t even make the top 100 of ESPN’s ranking of which players will be the best in the 2023-24 NHL season, and his teammates were in shock when they found out.
“Oh my God,” Marcus Pettersson told The Athletic. “Is this a joke? Gotta be a joke, right?”
Ryan Graves said he’d ”absolutely never” would read that article.
“Geno’s an all-time great and he’s won a Hart Trophy. You’re not a No. 2 center when you’ve won a Hart Trophy. So he’s a No. 1 center, and a great one. Look at what he’s already doing this season. How do you put some of the people on that list in front of him? Wow. Totally crazy. I understand other teams have more than one great player. Maybe it’s hard to pick out of (Nathan) MacKinnon, (Cale) Makar and (Mikko) Rantanen, stuff like that. But seriously. Come on. That’s incredible.”
So far, during the season, Malkin is showing the panel wrong. He’s recorded six points in two games played and earned NHL’s No. 3 star of the week on Sunday. According to Rickard Rakell, who’s played on Malkin’s right wing this season, Malkin is better this year than the previous.
”He’s a different guy this year. He’s playing with even more confidence than usual. I also think Karlsson being here is helping him. The way he holds onto the puck for an extra second, it’s helping Geno. Geno is so smart, he can take that extra second and get open. He’s reading off of it, and it’s making him that much better. And the more Geno has the puck, the better we are, because he’s still one of the great players in the game.”
The general feeling seems that Malkin ranks way higher among players than with the media. Lars Eller, a great defensive-minded defenseman, has played against Geno many times. He claims Malkin deserves as much attention as Crosby gets.
“I’m in awe,” Eller said. “Trust me, this guy is still so good, so elite. He’s still one of the greatest players in the game, in my opinion. You can just see how smart he is. The vision. The puck skills. He’s doing incredible things right now, and it’s fun to watch him play. I’m not surprised by what he’s doing, though, because he’s an all-time great and he’s always been a dominant player. And he still is.”