The answer was simple for Petr Sykora: Pittsburgh
That became his destination of choice this summer when, as a free agent, he signed with the Penguins.
He has three main reasons why: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.
“It’s not that hard to fit in when you play with good players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin,” he said. “These guys make you better. Since the first day, I didn’t have any problem fitting in with these guys. It’s just fun for me to be out there. When you look around the league, there is no better fit for me than this team right here with, in my mind, the best three young centers in the league in Crosby, Malkin and Jordan Staal. Any of them can make you better. Any of them can create scoring chances for you. I just cannot be any happier.”
Staal has been moved back to left wing and is skating on the first line with Crosby and Sykora. The unit, formed only recently, is getting better with each practice. Sykora is trying to get back into game shape – as well as establish line cohesiveness – after suffering a facial injury in the Penguins’ second preseason game in a collision with teammate Brooks Orpik.
“It’s been a little step back. I haven’t been skating for a week. I am just working on getting the feeling I had before and get into the shape I want to be in,” he said. “I felt pretty good this week, so it’s coming back pretty quickly. I have no doubt I will be on top of my game when the regular season starts.”
Sykora has shown some hop in his step, which is a good sign for the Penguins. In 82 games with Edmonton last year, he tallied 53 points (22+31). For his career, Sykora has 565 points (247+318) in 764 NHL games. He has tallied 20 or more goals seven times in his career.
Even though he was limited during training camp, he’s had little trouble fitting in with the close-knit Penguins.
“I came up from New Jersey’s system where the whole mentality was to play as a team, play the system and be a close group of guys. That was one of the reasons I wanted to come here,” he said. “As soon as I got here, I felt like I had been here a long time. The guys have been great to me and I look forward to coming to the rink every morning.”
There were some familiar faces in the locker room for Sykora when he came to Pittsburgh – Sergei Gonchar and Evgeni Malkin. All three played for Metallurg Magnitogorsk during the 2004-05 NHL work stoppage. He’s amazed at Malkin’s progression, but not exactly surprised.
“We had a great year back in Russia,” he said. “At that time Evgeni was 17 and I knew he was going to be one of biggest stars in the NHL. To watch how he has matured over the last couple of years is pretty amazing. He had a great year last year and I am sure he’s going to get to the 100-point mark this season. There is no doubt in my mind that he will be right behind Sidney in scoring in this league.”
Along with strong goal-scoring abilities, Sykora brings more experience to the Penguins. He won a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 1999-2000 went to the Finals with the Anaheim Ducks in 2002-03 Finals. All told, he has skated in 88 playoff games in his career.
He hopes to add to that total this season.
“I am looking forward to a good season. I really feel this team has a chance to do something special this year,” he said. “They have another year of experience from last year when the guys got the feel for the playoffs here, especially the young guys. They are one year older and the team is better. It got a little tougher in our division – the New York Rangers and Philadelphia got better, but I have no doubt we’re going to make the playoffs and go for a little run.”