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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Echoes of Lemieux in Rookie Malkin

PITTSBURGH -- Evgeni Malkin is adapting to a new league, country, language and position, all at age 20. Even if it seems all the adjusting is being made for the Russian.

NHL coaches are scrambling to find ways to defend against the Pittsburgh Penguins rookie forward whose speed and instincts have been likened to that of Mario Lemieux.

"When everybody compares me to Mario Lemieux, it's an honor," Malkin, speaking through an interpreter, said of the praise by teammate Mark Recchi. "He's the best player. I have to prove a lot more what I can do on the ice."

The thinking around the league can only be: He can do more than this?

Malkin is one of only two players in 88 years -- Boston's Dmitri Kvartalnov in 1992-93 was the other -- to score a goal in each of his first five games. Malkin could become the first player since the league's inaugural season in 1917 to score in his first six if he gets a goal against the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday.

His Lemieux-like numbers (5 goals, 4 assists in five games) are a major reason why the Penguins are 6-3, or six more victories than they had at this stage one year ago.

The last few months have been a whirlwind of culture shock for a player who is barely out of his teens: sneaking away from his Russian club in Finland, slipping into the United States, signing a NHL contract, getting acclimated to his new team. He's even had his first NHL injury, a dislocated shoulder that sidelined him for three-plus weeks.

But on the ice, he has been the same in North America as he was in Russia or in the Turin Olympics -- an all-around player who can generate scoring, and a lot of it, with his size (1.93 meters), speed, stickhandling and reflexes.

"He's learning fast, and getting better with every game," line mate Sidney Crosby said. "It's the same way it was with Mario -- you don't know what's going to happen, but you know you're going to create something. With a creative mind like that, you don't know what to expect and it makes for an element of surprise out there."

With Malkin, Crosby and 18-year-old Canadian rookie Jordan Staal scoring at a high rate, the Penguins are one of the league's surprise stories. Of their nine scorers who have two or more goals, only two are 25 or older.

Following four consecutive last-place seasons in which they were known mostly for dumping high-priced stars, the Penguins have the look of a playoff contender.

Any surprise that Malkin's No. 71 jersey has joined Crosby's No. 87 as one of the league's top sellers?

"I think this team's really starting to join together, really creating a lot of chemistry," Staal said.