|Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin poses with the Hart Trophy (left), the Art Ross Trophy (centre) and the Ted Lindsay Award during the NHL awards show at the Wynn Las Vegas Resort in Las Vegas, Nev., June 20, 2012. (HARRY HOW/Getty Images/AFP)
LAS VEGAS - With Alex Radulov's antics and other recent KHL defections casting shadows over his countrymen -- to the point that "The Russian Factor" has become an issue in every NHL team's draft meeting -- Evgeni Malkin reminded the hockey world that the Motherland can still deliver.
The Pittsburgh Penguins star capped a hat-trick at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas Wednesday, taking home the Art Ross, Ted Lindsay and Hart trophies.
"It's a special day to me," said the 25-year-old from Magnitogorsk. "This is the best day of my life."
Malkin is the third Russian in the last five years to win the Hart after Alex Ovechkin did it back-to-back in 2007-08 and 2008-09. This one does a lot for Russian pride.
"I love my country," he said. "Every year I go back to my hometown. Great country, I love it. I thank my parents and my coaches from Russia. I never thought about the NHL, I just enjoyed hockey when I was growing up. Now I can't believe I'm here, with three trophies around me. It's an unbelievable day."
Being on Sidney Crosby's team, one would half expect Malkin to spend his entire career warming up the second fiddle. But with Crosby out much of the season due to a concussion, Malkin had a chance to take centre stage, and he did so to the tune of a league-leading 109 points.
The Penguins barely missed a step with Malkin at the helm. Not that he wants to accept much credit for that.
"We have a great team," he said. "I hope Sid comes back next season and plays the whole season with no injury. I didn't think about (being the MVP), I just wanted to show my best every game and every practice."
The Lindsay award, voted on by his peers, meant the most to Malkin. And one of those peers, fellow Hart nominee Henrik Lundqvist, admits it was hard to vote against the kind of season Malkin delivered.
"He was unbelievable this year," said the Rangers keeper. "I played against him a bunch and it's always a challenge, that's for sure. I see him as one of the best in the game."
Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche could be the next great player on hockey's horizon. The big Swede edged New Jersey's Adam Henrique and Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
"It was pretty special feeling," said Landeskog, who led the Avs in goals (22), plus-minus (+20) and hits (219).
About the only thing he struggles with is dressing himself.
"I was pretty nervous and it didn't help that I didn't have a belt," he said with a laugh. "I forgot it back in Sweden. I guess my focus was elsewhere."
He borrowed one from his agent and made it through the presentation.
"It's a honour to be in the group of all the great players who've won this award. My good friend Jeff Skinner, Peter Forsberg, Daniel Alfredsson, two Swedish guys. It's a pretty special feeling that's tough to describe right now.
"It's every kid's dream to sit in this chair, to answer questions from the media and be on TV. I'm very fortunate and very thankful."
As for the other two nominess, Landeskog said they both could have easily won. Maybe should have won.
"They are two great players," he said. "To me, Ryan would have won it if he didn't get hurt. And if you're counting the playoffs, Adam would have won it. Like I said, two great players and two really good guys."
Elsewhere on the podium, Lundqvist won the Vezina trophy on the strength of a 39-18 record, five shutouts and a 1.97 goals-against average.
Ottawa's Erik Karlsson won the Norris Trophy as top defenceman; Brian Campbell, who had 53 points in 82 games and drew just six penalty minutes, won the Lady Byng as most gentlemanly; and Max Pacioretty, who returned after his hellacious run into the turn buckle in Montreal, won the Masterton Award for dedication to hockey.
Patrice Bergeron earned the Selke as best defensive forward and the St. Louis tandem of Doug Armstrong and Ken Hitchcock were GM and coach of the year.
Shane Doan won the Mark Messier Leadership Award and Daniel Alfredsson won the King Clancy Award for community work.