CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. - Entering his 21st NHL season, defenceman Sergei Gonchar is focused on earning a second stint with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Gonchar was a defensive leader for the Penguins for five seasons from 2005-2010, including during Pittsburgh's two Stanley Cup Final appearances in 2008 and 2009.
Gonchar said when he contemplated continuing his career, he first thought of Pittsburgh.
"I just decided I want to give it another shot. I decided I wanted to play," Gonchar said. "You want to go somewhere where you have a chance to win and where you can compete every night. So, Pittsburgh was the obvious choice.
"It is strange, a bit (to be back in a Penguins jersey). But it didn't take me long to adjust to it. "
The 41-year-old has 220 goals and 811 points in 1,301 NHL games, but scored just one goal and 13 points with the Montreal Canadiens last season. But Gonchar feels he has enough skill left to contribute to a young Penguins defence.
"I think I do, otherwise I wouldn't be here," Gonchar said. "Obviously, you have to compensate with your gap, with your read of the game. So, you have to keep it on those things. With your condition, you can only do so much. (The mental side of the game is) the stuff you can always improve."
The Penguins' defence, led by 28-year-old Kris Letang, will depend on a group of inexperienced defencemen after Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff left.
Because of their lack of experience, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said the Penguins would like to use eight defencemen, which could increase Gonchar's chances of making the roster.
"We want to start with eight defencemen just based on the competition we have going here," Rutherford said. "Each individual will take care of itself, based on how they play. Certainly, Gonchar will be a guy everybody will be watching. He's had a very good career. We'll see how much he has left. Can he keep the tempo?
"But he's a smart player. I think he can contribute to our team. Now, we just have to watch these games."
Gonchar had 54 goals and 259 points in 322 games with the Penguins. Pittsburgh coach Mike Johnston complimented Gonchar's career, while remarking that he has a legitimate chance to earn a spot on the opening day roster, if he impresses throughout training camp.
"Sergei Gonchar is a player people know well here," Johnston said. "You look at his track record, over 1,300 games, 800 points. He's had a phenomenal track record at the NHL level. His puck decisions are really good. His poise with the puck is very good.
"(Gonchar) is a player we like because of how he plays. He can fit into our system. I want to see how he handles the camp, and how he handles the games."