Evgeni Malkin knows what the best NHL teams look like, the ones with stars who capture the attention of fan bases and string together wins to make it all fulfilling.
He has been on some with the Penguins.
So when the Rangers acquired Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane ahead of the March 3 trade deadline — adding to a group that already included Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, Igor Shesterkin and others — Malkin was impressed by what they had pieced together.
“It’s a danger team right now,” Malkin told The Post after the Penguins’ practice Friday at Chelsea Piers. “Every line is danger. They’re probably, like, best team in the league right now.”
The three-time Stanley Cup champion, who also won a Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP and won the Art Ross Trophy twice as its points leader, said the Rangers need more time to connect, since they’ve shuffled lines a handful of times.
But he and his Penguins teammates have faced the Rangers’ new-look lineup more than anyone the past two weeks.
After they defeated the Rangers last Sunday in Pittsburgh, the result flipped four days later at the Garden.
The Metropolitan Division rivals will have their final meeting of the regular season Saturday at the Garden.
“They’re focused on winning the [Stanley] Cup,” Malkin told The Post. “If they play hard, they have a chance to win for sure.”
Malkin said he hopes the creation of the Rangers’ quasi-superteam, and any others that follow in future years, will be good for the NHL.
It was a open secret that Kane wanted to play for the Rangers, with the question of when that would happen a point of discussion at recent trade deadlines.
When Kane made it clear he wanted to move on from the Blackhawks, Malkin thought it helped the league as fans brainstormed which teams and linemates would be the best fit.
Recently, he observed that discourse centering around Panarin, Kane’s former linemate in Chicago, and Zibanejad.
“It’s good when people talk on Twitter or Instagram,” Malkin said. “I think it’s so much help to the league.”
The Penguins went through a similar scenario in 2015-16, when they acquired forward Phil Kessel from the Maple Leafs and paired him with the franchise’s current stars: Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury and others.
They ended up winning the Stanley Cup in each of the next two seasons.
When asked about superteam comparisons between that Penguins team and the current Rangers, Malkin said it “probably” feels the same, but he acknowledged that each team is different — and that superstars don’t equate to guaranteed success and deep playoff runs.
“You need good chemistry together, work hard every practice and do dirty jobs, too — blocking shots, winning faceoffs,” Malkin said. “Not just score goals, play power play. If they do it right, they have a great chance to win, but we’ll see.”
The Rangers’ 4-2 victory over the Penguins on Thursday marked another step toward becoming the type of team they envisioned after the trade deadline, head coach Gerard Gallant said.
Their lines are starting to mesh.
The turnovers have decreased.
For a while, the Rangers thought they could use their plethora of talent to “skill our way against teams,” defenseman Adam Fox said. That, however, prevented the Rangers from controlling the neutral zone and created offensive opportunities for opponents.
It took a while, perhaps longer than expected, but the Rangers’ recent stretch of points in five consecutive games has demonstrated to their players — and other observers, such as Malkin — where their potential lies.
They’ve reversed those mistakes, and Tarasenko has settled into a new-look top line while Kane has six points in his past five games.
And that’s “when the skill takes over,” Fox said. Others around the NHL have started to notice, too.
“[Kane and Tarasenko are] elite offensive players, and so they add an offensive threat to the depth of their lineup that maybe they didn’t have before they acquired them,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan, who coached those Pittsburgh teams to the Stanley Cups, said. “But that, for me, is the biggest impact that those guys have, is their ability to quick-strike and score goals.”