Penguins' Malkin continues cultural adjustment
In any other city, for any other fans, Evgeni Malkin, coming off a first season for which he was voted the NHL's top rookie, would be The Man. In Pittsburgh, though, for Penguins fans, anyway, he receives second billing behind The Kid.
Malkin was merely the league's best rookie last season. Sidney Crosby was its most valuable player and leading scorer.
Clearly, Crosby casts a large shadow. At 20, he is the youngest captain in league history and the face not only of a resurgent franchise, but the sport that franchise expects to dominate over coming years.
Malkin, 21, remains an enigma -- to the point that some fans consider his rookie season more disappointing than remarkable, especially given his lack of production down the stretch and in the playoffs.
Sergei Gonchar shook his head in disbelief at that suggestion.
"I do not understand that, especially with the way he was leaving the country, all the stories about that and the (shoulder) injury (before last season)," Gonchar said. "All those things, if you put them together, he did really well. Remember, he won Rookie of the Year, and that is something not many guys do."
Only 16 rookies have posted a higher point total than Malkin's 85 last season. Many of them, though, spoke English -- if not as a first language, at least in passing.
Malkin, a Russian, did not.
Malkin, who spent his summer in Europe with family and friends, said through an interpreter Thursday that he has not hired a tutor. He will continue to learn English from "watching TV and reading books."
"But he is learning. He is forcing himself to learn," Gonchar said. "Every time and again now he is reading the dictionary and trying to memorize some words. I mean, it is progress. It is a step forward."
Malkin's teammates, including last-season linemate Jordan Staal, insist that his language barrier presented no problem on the ice. However, a consensus among people within the organization is that Malkin's willingness to room with an English-speaking player on the road this season should go a long way toward accelerating his cultural assimilation.
General manager Ray Shero called that decision by Malkin "a big thing." Gonchar agreed, adding he hopes Malkin derives enough confidence from the experiment to seek a place of his own in Pittsburgh by season's end.
Shero said the Penguins will not force Malkin to move from Gonchar's house. However, Shero has encouraged such a move and said he has a feeling Malkin wants to expand his horizons.
"He is ready for it, anyway," Shero said. "He wants to be on his own, have his own place, to drive and do what he wants."
Staal said Malkin wants desperately to adjust to the North American lifestyle and speak freely in most of his teammate's native tongue.
"He worked on it a little bit this summer, and I'm really proud of him," Staal said. "You should have seen him the other night."
Staal referred to the eve of training camp, when Malkin was charged with interviewing prospect Tyler Kennedy, then, in front of teammates, coaches and team officials, presenting Kennedy while speaking only English.
"You know what• He did a really good job," winger Mark Recchi said. "That was the longest I ever heard him speak English."
Shero said he could not help but get caught up in the crowd's reaction to Malkin's presentation, which was thunderous applause.
"He got a big ovation," Shero said. "He is making progress. It is more of a shyness thing for him. I see him coming out of his shell."
Evidence of Malkin coming out of his shell was on display at the UPMC South Side facility on Thursday. After completing a battery of tests, Malkin met the media and answered the majority of questions through his interpreter, team ticket sales executive George Birman.
One question, though, started Malkin shaking his head and repeatedly uttering one word: "No!" (he was not married over the summer).
So, even if he does not always speak it, Malkin better understands English?
"Yes," Malkin said, with no help. "I do."
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins’ Adams not returning to team
- Penguins GM: Team not disciplined enough, buyouts possible, Bennett handled incorrectly
- Johnstown rink wins $150K for upgrades, will host Penguins preseason game
- Penguins’ Pouliot learns from rookie season
- Penguins GM Rutherford happy in Pittsburgh
- Penguins’ Letang nominated for Masterton Trophy
- Injured Penguins optimistic about returning next season
- Coach Johnston trying to figure out why Penguins ‘fell off a cliff’
- Starkey: The Penguins’ perpetual question