A few weeks ago, Evgeni Malkin told me one of the big reasons he was looking forward to the 2016 NHL All-Star festivities in Nashville was to see a few of his Russian buddies that he’s competed internationally with.
And while Alex Ovechkin had to drop out of the weekend due to injury, Malkin’s okay with that – as the Penguins center joked he’d rather skate alongside his replacement anyway.
“Yeah, ‘Ovi’ is not here but I don’t know, maybe I’ll play with (Evgeny) Kuznetsov. He’s a little bit better,” Malkin laughed.
Kuznetsov, 23, knew of Malkin, 28, as kids growing up a few years and a few hours apart in their native Russia.
“I would see him when I was really small. He probably didn’t recognize me,” the Washington Capitals forward smiled. “We would always play against his team, even starting from junior. So we hated each other, you know, always, when we were small. But right now, we don’t.”
The two of them have since gone on to have a lot of success internationally together, as they won gold medals for Team Russia at the 2012 and ’14 World Championships. And Kuznetsov said that Malkin’s personality
“He’s a really nice guy. Personable,” Kuznetsov said. “He’ll always talk with you if you’re a nice guy too. What I like about his game is he’s got a lot of skill.”
Speaking of skill, Vladmir Tarasenko is arguably the most exciting young sniper in the league. He already has 25 goals in 50 games for the Blues after scoring 37 last year in his breakout season. And Malkin was one of the players the 24-year-old would watch compete for Pittsburgh before getting drafted by St. Louis in 2010 and coming to the NHL in 2012.
“I followed him when he used to play here, before I came here,” said Tarasenko.
They then became teammates for the 2014 Winter Olympics in their native country and the 2015 World Championship, and it was at those tournaments that Tarasenko developed a firsthand appreciation for Malkin and his talents.
“He’s a really smart, skilled player and I think he’s one of the best in the world, for sure,” Tarasenko said. “So it’s nice to see the way he plays. He’s got really good hockey sense. And I think all components of his game are really good.”
The two of them scored a similar goal in their last meeting of the season back on Jan. 18 in St. Louis – a 5-2 Blues win. After Malkin powered into the Blues’ end and right around Jay Bouwmeester before going backhand-forehand and roofing a shot over Brian Elliott, Tarasenko answered with a similar score.
“It’s kind of the same goal. That was really fun,” Tarasenko said. “When guys from the same country score good goals, it makes other players go in too. I know a lot of my teammates were really happy for me.”
However, Malkin agreed to disagree.
“It’s a good move, but it’s not like mine,” Malkin joked.