Nine years ago, Penguins center Evgeni Malkin needed a landlord and a translator.
He got one in defenseman Sergei Gonchar (right, with Malkin). The veteran took Malkin, then a rookie, into his home and helped his fellow Russian adjust to life in North America on and off the ice.
Nearly a decade later, the roles have been reversed for Malkin.
With Gonchar in training camp on a professional tryout contract, Malkin has let Gonchar shack up with him for the time being.
Malkin is also serving as a translator for new left winger Sergei Plotnikov, another Russian, who joined the team as a free agent this past offseason.
Following today's practice at the team's facility in Cranberry, Malkin held court with media and talked about a variety of subjects, including Gonchar and Plotnikov.
What does new right winger Phil Kessel bring to the team?
It's a big part for us. I think everyone is excited here. He's a good player. I'm excited to play with him. It doesn't matter which line he plays. We're still one team. It's great for [the] team. I hope he's very helpful.
You're probably happy to see Gonchar in camp.
"Oh yeah, of course. He's my friend. He lives with me. It's good."
You lived with Gonchar early in your career. Now, he's living with you for the time being.
"Yeah. It's good. Eight years ago, I lived with him. Now, he's come back to Pittsburgh [and] live with me. It's so exciting. He stays with my family. [We're] friends. We hope we play together this year."
Would you prefer to play with Kessel?
"It's all coaches. I think [coach Mike Johnston] trying different lines. We'll see what's going on. It doesn't matter. Maybe we play together on [the] power play. Maybe I change, Sid change a little bit and I play with [Kessel]. But it doesn't matter for me. We have [Patric Hornqvist], Pascal Dupuis, [Chris] Kunitz. It's great forwards. It doesn't matter for me who I play with."
The team struggled to score goals last season. Are you better equipped to produce offense after this offseason?
"I think so. Now, [Dupuis is] back. We have four great lines. We have now deeper lines. We have unbelievable four lines. Defensemen. [Marc-Andre Fleury] too. It's a great time. Sometimes, it's bad luck. We can't score. But if we work hard, goals come."
How do you describe Plontikov as a player?
"He's big size. Works hard every shift. He likes playing around [the] net. Screen the net, goalie. Pretty good skills. He [does] everything. Skate, shoot, work hard in [the] corner, go to the net. Everything."
Did you talk to him about potentially coming to Pittsburgh when he was considering jumping to the NHL?
"Yeah, we talked a little bit. I talked to [general manager Jim Rutherford]. He asked me about him. We talked a little bit after I talked to Sergei. He said he was excited to come to the NHL. I [said], 'If you come to Pittsburgh, [I'll] always help you.' After a couple of days, he signed."
How have you been helping him?
"I think first of all, it's on ice. How [to] play because it's a little bit different ice. Different rink. It's a different game because here it's smaller ice. He understands that. I try to talk to him. You need to play a little bit quicker. Off ice, Pittsburgh, the organization, they help me, [Gonchar], everyone. I know he [found a] car. [An] apartment too. He's here with his wife. Everything [is] good."
On the importance of aiding Plotnikov.
"I think it's very, very important because he doesn't really speak English. It's big problem. He understands but sometimes he [doesn't] understand what coaches say. I try to help. First couple of weeks, he's a little bit scared maybe. But now, he [knows the] players here and everyone. Now, I think everything is pretty easy for him."
How key was Gonchar in helping you early in your career?
"I always say [if] Gonchar [didn't] help me, [if] he [didn't] play in Pittsburgh, I maybe [don't] win rookie of [the] year. I maybe [don't] win a couple more trophies because he helped me a lot. Off ice, I was with him. He translates sometimes to me. If [he didn't] play here, I'm a little bit scared because it's just myself. I'm 19 year old."
(Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)