“This or That?” is an ongoing feature at Sportsnet.ca that pits two players with obvious—and sometimes, not so obvious—ties and attempts to answer the basic question, “Who would you rather have?” Readers can offer their two cents by answering the poll at the bottom.
The 2003 draft is often acclaimed for the depth of talent it featured. But, at the top of the table, the ’03 event couldn’t hold a candle to what happened the next year, when Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin went 1-2.
Beyond their draft-day link, the two have starred together on Russia’s national team and—thanks a certain teammate of Malkin’s—been on opposite sides of one of the NHL’s signature rivalries between the Ovie’s Washington Capitals and Malkin’s Pittsburgh Penguins.
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They play different games from different positions, but both look unstoppable when they get rolling. The electrifying winger or the huge-bodied centre; who would you rather have?
The case for Ovechkin
At worst, he shares the heavyweight belt for best goal-scorer in the league with Steven Stamkos. It’s almost quaint to think back to the time, a couple years ago, when back-to-back seasons of 32 and 38 goals made us think Ovie was through. The past two seasons have seen Ovechkin—who turns 29 in September—score 83 times in 126 games while capturing consecutive Rocket Richard Trophies. Increasingly, the right winger’s exploits have come without the benefit of a quality supporting cast in Washington. The criticism will always be that he doesn’t play a two-way game, but that can feel like nitpicking when you consider how few people can bury like Ovechkin.
The case for Malkin
Because of his enviable size and reach, Malkin sometimes looks like a player who even the best NHL defencemen just have no hope of stopping. The 28-year-old centre has the advantage of playing on the same team as Sidney Crosby, meaning opponents are put in a tough situation deciding whom to sick their most capable defensive dogs on. Still, Malkin has proven himself to be an elite point-producer who can both set up and finish plays. At his best, he can also be a real puck hound, tracking back to steal the disc from opponents who are trying to get on the attack. The one knock on Malkin is the fact he’s had a hard time staying in the lineup the past few years. Since playing a full 82-game schedule in 2008-09, Malkin’s games played read as follows: 67; 43; 75; 31 (of 48) and 60.
Why do we make these so hard? The fact Malkin plays in the middle makes you lean that way, but scoring goals is still the most valued ability in hockey. Then toss in the fact Ovechkin is very durable compared to Malkin and we’ll go with Ovie by the slimmest of margins.