WASHINGTON, D.C. - Evgeny Kuznetsov still remembers Artemi Panarin from their time at Traktor Chelyabinsk hockey school in Russia.
Kuznetsov, a star center for the Washington Capitals, said the Blue Jackets' leading scorer stood out even then, as a small, skinny 6-year old.
"He's one year older than me, but we always played outside after our practices," said Kuznetsov, who will play against Panarin and the Blue Jackets on Friday at Capital One Arena. "He always dangled people, you know … like two or three guys. That's the way they teach us back home, in the first two or three years. You don't touch the puck. You just skate. Then they give you the puck and you play, most of the time 1-on-1."
Kuznetsov and Panarin aren't the only Russian-born players on the Capitals and Blue Jackets who know each other well, though. Those two also played with Washington defenseman Dmitry Orlov for Russia's team in the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championships.
They helped Russia overcome a third-period deficit against Canada in the gold medal game, with Panarin scoring two goals.
"We were good friends at that time, and we still keep in touch," said Orlov, a talented defenseman for the Capitals. "He's pretty nice. Real quiet. But around friends, he's [not]. He's a good player, and I think nobody cares if he's quiet."
Orlov and Kuznetsov also know Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who will likely start Friday against the Capitals. Orlov is from the same Siberian city in Russia, Novokuznetsk, and played two seasons together with Bobrovsky in the KHL with Metallurg Novokuznetsk.
"We're born from the same streets, the same city and went to the same school," Orlov said. "He was a little bit older, but when I got on the KHL team and met him, we started to be friends. I'm happy for him, where he is, but when I play against him, I forget we're friends, you know? No friends on the ice."
Bobrovsky wouldn't have it any other way, as Kuznetsov has learned by playing against and with him. They face each other quite a bit in the NHL, playing for Metropolitan Division teams, but have also been teammates internationally for Russia.
"I know he can stop crazy pucks," Kuznetsov said. "He can do whatever he [wants] in the net, but the same time, I practice a lot against him, so I know a little bit [about] his mentality - and that prepares you for the other goalies. Like, if you can score on him in a practice, it means you can score on any goalie in the league. He's practicing always 100 percent."