(PRESS RELEASE: Penguins sign Evgeni Malkin.)
He may have circled the globe, but Evgeni Malkin is finally where he wants to be - in Pittsburgh.
Malkin, the 2004 second-overall pick, signed his first NHL contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday - a moment he thought about for many years.
"It was my dream to come play for the Pittsburgh Penguins club. I was always open in my desire to come to North America and become one of the best here," Malkin said through a translator, Olga McQueen. "My friends understood me and I am very grateful for their support."
Signing his contract with the Penguins was easy. Getting to Pittsburgh, on the other hand, was the tough part for Malkin.
"It is a very exciting day for the Penguins organization and Penguins fans," Penguins General Manager Ray Shero said. "We commend Evgeni on his courage for coming to Pittsburgh to pursue his life-long dream of playing in the National Hockey League."
Malkin is relieved to be in his new surroundings.
"I only got into Pittsburgh [Monday] night and didn't have much of a chance to look around yet. But, based on what I was shown this morning on my way to the rink, it was very impressive," he said. "They showed me a couple of the new stadiums and some other places. It was impressive. I am really happy to be here today."
Malkin, who turned 20 on July 31, joins a very young and talented Penguins lineup. Widely considered the best player not in the NHL during the 2005-06 season, he figures to play a prominent role on the squad after excelling on the international level the past few years.
"It's a great day for our hockey team and our fans in Pittsburgh as well, there's no doubt about that," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "He's like Sidney - a great prospect, a great young player. We are proud about the foundation of our young team. We take pride in having a young team like we have in Pittsburgh. I really believe our fans like our hockey team. It's going to be an interesting year and I am looking forward to it."
Malkin received a warm welcome from his new teammates during an informal skating session Tuesday morning.
"I had my first skate with the team. I really enjoyed it very much. The team consists of young players mainly. All of them have a great sense of humor," he said. "They were so friendly to me. I really appreciated the way they were kidding around and accepted me nicely. Everything went so well. I am staying right now in Sergei Gonchar's house and it is also a great support for me. I am very thankful that I have this chance to start here. Everything is going very nicely."
Malkin enjoyed his first meeting with Penguins 19-year-old superstar Sidney Crosby, too.
"[Monday] night, I met Sidney for the first time in person. I was very much impressed with Sidney and his friendliness," Malkin said. "He is an easy-going young man and he promised to help me and provide any support possible. I was very, very pleased to hear that. It was very kind of him. This morning, I also watched Sidney skate and it was a tremendous experience for me to get because Sidney is definitely one of the most-powerful players in the NHL today."
At Tuesday's press conference, Mario Lemieux presented the young Russian with a Penguins jersey featuring Malkin's No. 71.
"When I started to play hockey, I had number 11. It was a prominent number for many, many years," Malkin said. "When I got to Magnitogorsk, it turned out that the number was given to somebody else. So, I gave it some thought and decided to get a number close to 11 and that's how I came up with 71."
Malkin, a soft-spoken youngster who towers over opponents on the ice, does not speak fluent English. Therrien and the Penguins realize this and will work hard to make Malkin's transition a smooth one.
"It's going to take an adjustment for him," Therrien said. "From a coaching standpoint, we're going to be there to help him and make sure he's comfortable in the city and comfortable with his teammates and the coaching staff so he is going to be able to perform well on the ice.
"There is no doubt this is a great day for us."