LAS VEGAS -- On the night he officially was crowned the reigning top player in the NHL, Evgeni Malkin dipped into the past for some perspective Wednesday.
In accepting the Hart Trophy as the league's top player -- which followed him accepting the player-voted Ted Lindsay Award as outstanding player and the Art Ross Trophy as the top scorer -- the Penguins center dedicated his success to former teammate, fellow Russian and onetime landlord Sergei Gonchar.
"I remember six years ago, when I came here, it was a different life," Malkin, 25, said of his arrival in Pittsburgh. "I didn't speak English. He took care of me. He's a great guy and an unbelievable player. He's learned how hard to play. He's my best friend here."
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who a year ago won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year, was at the Encore Theater to support Malkin. He thought it was fitting that from the spotlight Malkin gave a heartfelt shoutout to Gonchar, but he also thought the influence showed best after the veteran defenseman left in July 2010 to sign with Ottawa.
"I think you saw it even more when you saw Sergei go," Bylsma said. "Now you're missing that guy, the mentor and friend, a guy that's helped you out a lot. I think you've seen [Malkin] step out even more, from a language standpoint, a media standpoint, a leadership standpoint."
Malkin led the NHL with 109 points in 2011-12, including a career-best 50 goals, despite missing seven games, mostly because of lingering knee soreness after surgery in February 2011.
He handily beat out fellow Hart and Lindsay finalists Steve Stamkos, a Tampa Bay center who won the Richard Trophy for leading the NHL with 60 goals; and New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who as a pretty substantial consolation won the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goalie.
Malkin had 144 first-place votes and 1,473 points in Hart voting by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. Stamkos had one first-place vote, 598 points; Lundqvist, three first-place votes, 556 points.
Malkin had widely been considered the favorite to collect the two trophies, and Bylsma knows why.
Once Malkin's knee got healthy, he displayed a level of dominance Bylsma had seen only once before -- when Penguins center Sidney Crosby rolled up 66 points in 41 games, including a 25-game scoring streak, before he got hurt in January 2011.
"With [Malkin] this year, the amazing part of what he was able to do is that the other players -- his teammates and the other players in the league -- repeatedly said things about how dominant and how special, [how] awesome some of the things he was doing on the ice were, how he was taking over games, how he was playing almost an unstoppable type of game," Bylsma said.
"That's what Evgeni was doing two-thirds of this year."
Malkin and linemate James Neal were named NHL first-team All-Stars, Malkin the center and Neal the right winger. They and left winger Chris Kunitz made up the Penguins' top line. Neal had 40 goals, including an NHL-best 18 on the power play, and 81 points.
"I think we saw the best line in hockey," Bylsma said. "We saw that line take over for almost two months starting right around the halfway mark of the season. James Neal, a great goal-scorer already, turned into a weapon."
But not quite on the level of Malkin.
"It's the best day of my life," Malkin said. "It's a very special day."
He was a finalist for the Hart and Lindsay awards in 2008 and '09 and now joins Hall of Fame center and club owner Mario Lemieux (three times), Crosby and winger Jaromir Jagr as Penguins winners of the Hart -- all in the past 20 years.
Malkin was unmistakably nervous in making his acceptance speeches, but noted he he's getting better.
"I remember my first speech when I won my first Art Ross Trophy [in 2009]," he said. "I think this year was a little bit better."
"Maybe next year will be a little bit better, too."
The other winners:
• Norris Trophy (best defenseman) -- Erik Karlsson of Boston.
• Jack Adams Award (best coach) -- Ken Hitchcock of St. Louis.
• William Jennings Trophy (best goaltending tandem) -- Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak of St. Louis.
• Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) -- Gabriel Landeskog of Colorado.
• General manager of the year -- Doug Armstrong of St. Louis.
• Selke Trophy (top defenseman) -- Patrice Bergeron of Boston.
• Masterton Trophy (perseverance, sportsmanship, dedication) -- Max Pacioretty of Montreal.
• King Clancy Trophy (values, contribution community) -- Daniel Alfredsson of Ottawa.
• NHL Foundation player award -- Mike Fisher of Nashville.
• Mark Messier Leadership Award -- Shane Doan of Phoenix.
• Lady Byng Trophy (sportsmanship and skill) -- Brian Campbell of Florida, the first defenseman to win it since 1954.
Penguins who have won the Hart Trophy in the history of the franchise:
First Published June 21, 2012 4:00 AM