What were some of the deciding factors to sign with the Penguins? I know you had some other offers on the table, but what was it about the Penguins that was really attractive to you?
Well, I really liked the fit with the Penguins. I think it’s a very high-powered offense and there’s a lot of skilled players on that team. It was definitely something that drew my interest and they’re a team I’m happy to be a part of.
I don’t know how long you’ve been talking to the team or if it started on July 1, or how this process kind of went. I know they had to clear some cap space to kind of get all these moves in. Was it waiting on that, or how did everything kind of all come together?
My agent and I, we’ve been in discussions with a lot of teams since July 1. We wanted to be patient. The right offer didn’t come along on July 1 and we wanted to stay patient and make sure that we found a good fit. I think that was most important, but I also wanted to have a couple of years on my contract and I wanted to have a little bit of stability where I would be for a few years and also play on a team that had a good chance to win. The Penguins definitely fit the criteria and that’s where we ended up deciding to go.
What’s it like to be on the other side of the Pens-Caps rivalry. I know you were on the other side for a long time and now you get to be on the same side with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
It’s going to be very, very interesting, that’s for sure. Obviously Pittsburgh was a very tough team to play against when I was in Washington, and as much as you dislike the other team, you always respect them. But now, I’m really excited to be a part of the Pittsburgh Penguins and be on the other side of the rivalry.
What assets are you looking to bring to the team? Jim Rutherford spoke about your versatility and your defensive play, among a lot of other things, but what do you feel are some of your biggest strengths that you can bring to this team?
I’m not exactly sure how the coaching staff plans on using me, but I definitely feel that I can be valuable in the middle at the center ice position and play against other teams’ top lines, but also add some offense. I think I’ve got a little bit more to give in the scoring department, and I’m hoping that I can pick that up in Pittsburgh. Depending on whether I’m playing center or wing, I’m just really looking forward to contributing on offense as well as defense.
You had 19 goals this past season. Did anything happen differently that you had such success? How do you build on that for next year?
I don’t think anything really happened differently. I felt a little bit more comfortable at the center position. It was relatively new to me the last couple of years, and I’ve been working on it a lot. Last year I just felt a lot more comfortable and was just able to react and make plays instead of thinking too much at my new position.
Are you able to move pretty fluidly throughout the lineup, whether it be center or wing, top-6 or bottom-6?
Definitely. That’s probably one of my better attributes. I grew up in the Capitals system as a scoring winger, and kind of morphed into a checking-line centerman. I have the ability to play the wing, and hopefully score some goals. I have the ability to play center and shut down other teams’ top lines. I’m going to be real interested to see how the coaching staff plans on using me, but I’m excited for a new opportunity.
You talked about getting more comfortable at the center position. You had a 52-percent winning faceoff percentage last year, which was a career high, and continue to project upward. Is that just, again, getting more comfortable with the positions and all the facets that go with it?
Definitely. You know, it was one of the trickier parts taking faceoffs against players that have been doing it their whole life. But I definitely had some good coaches and some players that I kind of picked their brains on how to win faceoffs and what the best strategies were. I definitely learned a lot last year and feel a lot more comfortable in the circle. I’m hoping to even improve on that 52 percent from last year.
You obviously won’t know your role until you get back into the lineup and healthy and see what the coaching staff has for you, but PK has been a big asset to you. Do you see yourself in that role with this team?
I definitely would like to find my way onto the penalty kill. I think that’s one of my strengths. I enjoy playing the penalty kill and playing the defensive side of the game, so that’s something that interests me.
Any time you talk to a PK guy, that’s obviously something they take a lot of pride in. Is that something you take pride in with your ability to kill those penalties?
Yeah, I think that penalty killing is the biggest momentum swing that there is in a game. I think it’s even bigger than scoring a goal on the power play. A good penalty kill on a good penalty or a bad penalty – whatever it may be – it creates a pretty big momentum swing. I think the penalty killers understand that and take a lot of pride in keeping the puck out of the net when we’re shorthanded.
Does it get you even more excited – obviously Sid and Geno are here – when you look at the moves with the Penguins bringing in guys like Kessel, really making moves to become one of those Cup contending teams. Does that get you even more amped coming into the season?
Well, that’s definitely one of the reasons why I wanted to sign in Pittsburgh. Obviously the moves they’re making there, they’re trying to win now and obviously it’s always been a good team, but I think that we’ve made some bigger steps. Obviously, acquiring a big goal-scorer like Kessel and couple of the other guys they acquired today, so it’s some exciting times and I just cannot wait to meet all the guys and become a part of it.
How are you feeling? I know you just had (elbow) surgery a couple of months ago, so how do you feel? Where are you at status-wise? Are you able to do any kind of training?
I’m in my training and continuing my elbow rehab. I’m not quite back to my full training, but I’ve obviously been training legs and conditioning and everything. I’m starting to feel a lot more like my normal self. I’m obviously out of the sling and cast and moving around pretty well, so that’s exciting for me. This is just another motivating factor for me to continue to push hard and get ready for the regular season.