On the surface, there would appear to be few similarities between a balding Russian in his early 40s and a long-haired French Canadian in his mid 20s.
Having been a defensive partner with each of them, Matt Niskanen sees plenty of similarities between Kris Letang and Sergei Zubov.
Current Letang's partner on the Penguins' top defensive pairing, Niskanen began his career as Zubov's primary partner as a rookie in 2007-08 with the Dallas Stars.
Like Letang, Zubov, who spent one season in Pittsburgh in 1995-96, was a right-handed shot and an all-star but the comparisons go beyond that according to Niskanen. Last week, he compared the two players:
In what ways are Zubov and Letang similar?
"The way they think the game. They’re aggressive offensively. Obviously they have unbelievable skill. [Letang] skates a little better than the Zubov I played with. ‘Zuby’ was (37 years old at the time). They don’t always make the conventional play. They just look for open ice and take what’s there even if some people perceive it as a risky play."
What's key when being a defensive partner with a player like that?
"I think being in position. Being in the right position if something does break down or if he does get trapped, I’ve got to find open ice so I can give him an easy outlet. Understanding what he’s trying to do and find ice so I can always be an option for him."
What's different for you being a defensive partner with Letang as a veteran compared to being paired with Zubov as a rookie?
"The experiences you get from playing. I think I recognize a little quicker when I need to be behind for support or when I can be aggressive too. Get up the ice a little bit. Offensively, just a better understanding that comes with experience."
Who has a better shot?
"Ooh… I think Zubov. I have to give it to him. Craftier. ‘Tanger’ might have a more powerful shot… maybe. It’s hard to say. Zubov was just so crafty at getting it off. I think ‘Tanger’ will get there. He has the ability."
Who is more physical?
"I think ‘Tanger’ is more aggressive physically. He’ll look for a hit and he’s pretty powerful. ‘Zuby’ would kind trap you and bait you into something then with smart stick position, lift your stick and take away and he’s going the other way."
(Photos: Letang-Paul Bereswill/Getty Images; Zubov/Niskanen-Dallas Stars)