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Author: Evgenii Belashchenko (RP Exclusive)Date: 05/06/2004
Evgenii Malkin Exclusive Interview

Evgenii Malkin is currently the odds on favorite to be the second player picked in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, behind only fellow budding Russian super star Alexander Ovechkin. During the 2003-04 season, the talented center made a smashing debut in the Russian Super League, a league that is widely considered second only to the NHL. Despite missing the last month of the season due to injury, Malkin still claimed the league's award for top rookie. The talented center then returned to action, leading the Russian squad to the gold medals at the U18 World Junior Championships. correspondent Evgenii Belashchenko spoke to Evgenii Malkin soon after the young forward’s return from the U18 World Junior Championships.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself? How did you get into hockey?
E. Malkin: Well, I was born in Magnitogorsk. My father used to play hockey professionally, so he liked the sport a lot and signed me up for hockey school. I was about five years old back then.

Your father also played center?
E. Malkin: No, he was a right wing.

Have you always played at center?
E. Malkin: Yeah, my whole life

Do you have any favorite players in the NHL or the Russian Super League?
E. Malkin: I think Razin plays great in the Super League. In the NHL I like Sakic and Datsyuk the most.

What kind of hockey do you enjoy playing?
E. Malkin: I prefer the Russian, combinational and graceful hockey. I always try to make a nice pass.

What do you think you need to continue to improve?
E. Malkin: I think that I need to work harder on my skating and my shot.

How do you spend your free time off the ice?
E. Malkin: Like everyone else. I relax, go play some pool or go to the bowling alley.

Do you follow the NHL?
E. Malkin: No. We hardly get any games on TV over here. So, I just read about it in the newspapers and on the internet.

Do you like any NHL clubs?
E. Malkin: I like Colorado and Detroit.

What do you think is the difference between the North American and the Russian styles of hockey?
E. Malkin: There is more fighting and hitting over there. They also shoot more.

Russian Super League debut: holding his own against veterans
This season you made your Super League debut. What do you think of this league? How do you think you fared?

E. Malkin: The Super League is the best league in Russia. There are many good, strong teams, as well as talented individual players. The speeds are very high when compared to any other Russian league. At first it was difficult, but as time went on, I started to get used to the faster pace. I primarily skated on the third or fourth line.

How do you believe you have improved over this past season?
E. Malkin: The season has been difficult, and that’s without any exaggeration. Though, I did not play in every single game, I did get ice time in most of the games. Playing in a strong league definitely sped up my development, especially the speed of my decision making. I played in almost half the regular season games. I believe that the coaches trusted me and gave me the opportunity to prove myself in the Super League. They treated me with understanding if I became tired, and gave me a chance to catch my breath. It’s hard for me to say that this past season has been very successful, but I would say that I delivered a steady performance all season long.

The Unfortunate Fall....
In February you suffered a concussion that forced you to miss the rest of the regular season as well as the playoffs. What happened?
E. Malkin: I suffered the concussion during a collision with a player off of Avangard Omsk’s farm team. I did not make the starting lineup that day, and was playing for Metallurg’s farm team. I collided with the player near the boards, and fell hard.

How serious was the concussion? Did you quickly recover from it?

E. Malkin: The concussion was not serious. I would even say it was light. I fully recovered within three weeks.

Have you ever had a concussion before?
E. Malkin: No.

Super League playoffs: watching Magnitogorsk from the bench
Magnitogorsk has been one of the best teams in Russia this season. Did you follow how the club fared in the playoffs?

E. Malkin: Of course! I was there on the bench with the players in every game.

What happened in the finals against Avangard? Why do you think your club could not beat them?
E. Malkin: I think the guys were just a bit tired, since they played a lot more games than Avangard. In the last few games of the playoffs Avangard was just a bit better rested.

Team Russia: defending Russia’s honor
You have spent this whole season on Russia’s top line with Denis Parshin and Dmitri Shitikov. How did the line come together?

E. Malkin: The coach put us together during the first training camp for the U18 national team. We spent the entire training camp, and then later every tournament together. Our line almost always scored the most goals on the national team each tournament we played.

You also played with Shitikov last season during the 2003 U18 WJC. Have you developed good chemistry with him?
E. Malkin: Shitikov is a very talented winger. He always has the knack to find an open spot, so I could feed the puck to him. We play well together.

Both Parshin and Shitikov are physically not very intimidating. Have you had to stand up for your linemates, or take initiative and carry the puck up the ice yourself?
E. Malkin: No, why would I? We don’t try to play as individuals, and instead skate as a unit. We play together, passing the puck around and always attack together.

Do you play differently against specific opponents?
E. Malkin: I go out on the ice and don’t really think about who I am playing against. It’s all the same to me, and I continue to play at the same level.

The "Golden"2004 U18 World Junior Championships
You recently came from Belarus, where Russia’s squad won the gold medals at the U18 WJC. How did you do at the tournament?

E. Malkin: Our line did not play all that well in the first game. Maybe we worried too much and the game just didn’t come together. Then, in the second, third and fourth game, we became increasingly more confident and started to score. Parshin didn’t seem to have luck on his side in this tournament. He did not score any goals despite the fact that he had quite a few great scoring chances.

You and Parshin played very well at February’s Five Nations Tournament, but your other linemate Dmitri Shitikov did not do so well. What happened with him at that tournament?
E. Malkin: I don’t know, he tried hard. Maybe he played more in the back, helping out the defensemen, while Parshin and I played more on offense and scored the goals. I don’t know, I guess it happens.

Do you think Shitikov " made up" for it in this tournament?
E. Malkin: Well, at this tournament he potted three goals and did not play that badly.

Both of Russia’s semifinals and finals at the tournament turned out to have a North American flavor, with Russia facing Canada in the semis and the US in the finals. Both teams play physical, rough hockey. How do you think you fared against them?
E. Malkin: Well, I don’t really like that type of hockey, but if that is how an opponent plays against us, then you have to be prepared. You can’t be afraid of them and you have to answer their hits with your own.

Did you prepare differently against the North American opponents?
E. Malkin: The game flow was a bit different against these opponents. We had to bring the puck up the ice differently. Their wingers held up our wingers, forcing us to find other ways to carry the puck.

Who would you single out from the national team for their contributions to the gold medals?
E. Malkin: Our top sniper, Roman Voloshenko, and goalie Anton Khudobin, who played very well.

U20 National Team: " I was two years younger than everyone else!"
In November ’03 you were called up to U20 Team Russia’s training camp for the first time. Did you expect the invitation?

E. Malkin: It was a bit unexpected. I was two years younger than everyone else! (laughing) However, I did hope for an invitation, and aimed to do everything in my power to make the final roster.

What do you remember about your first tournament with the U20 squad, which was in November? Who did you play with there?
E. Malkin: I don’t remember too much. I remember I started the tournament with Krikunov and Anshakov. Then the lines were all switched around by the coach, and at one point I even skated with Zherdev.

You were one of Team Russia’s most productive forwards, finishing the tournament behind only Nikolai Zherdev in points. Soon after the tournament Zherdev left Russia for the North America to play in the NHL. Do you have any thoughts about Zherdev’s action?
E. Malkin: I think he did the right thing, because [Viktor] Tikhonov (CSKA’s head coach – RP) stopped giving him any ice time with CSKA. It is very difficult to develop and grow in hockey without any ice time. As you can see, he played quite well in the NHL – scoring goals and making assists.

The blunder that was the 2004 U20 World Junior Championships
To put it mildly, Team Russia did not fare well at the U20 WJC, finishing in fifth place. What happened?

E. Malkin: I can’t even begin to say anything. Every team has its breakdowns, and this was ours.

You spent most of the tournament with Sergei Anshakov, who was Russia’s most productive forward. One of the most memorable plays of the tournament was your " blind" pass right on Anshakov’s stick near the crease, leaving Anshakov with a wide open net to score in. Why were you two put together on the same line after spending little ice time together at the previous tournament?
E. Malkin: I think the coaches usually put me together with fast forwards, who are capable of finding the open spots, so I could feed them a nice pass. That is why we were put together on the same line.

Can you tell us your perspective on what happened in the quarterfinals game against the Finns?
E. Malkin: The game was very even judging by the score and by the game flow. It seems to me that luck wasn’t on our side towards the end of the game. At first we let in one goal, then another. I think we played well, even though fortune wasn’t on our side.

You spent the 2003 U18 WJC playing on the same line with Ovechkin. At the 2004 U20 WJC, your spot on the first line was taken by Dmitri Pestunov. Do you miss playing with Ovechkin?
E. Malkin: I think every player loves to play with Ovechkin! This is a player of a very high class and it’s just a pleasure to play with him.

What was your most memorable goal for the national team?
E. Malkin: That would be my first goal in Yaroslavl (at the U18 WJC – RP), for the U18 squad against Canada.

Who was Russia’s most difficult opponent at the international tournaments this season?
E. Malkin: I would have to say the Czechs. They shut you down and don’t let you maneuver or even turn around.

2004 NHL Entry Draft
You are considered one of the most talented young players eligible for this year’s NHL Entry Draft. You are widely considered by numerous scouting services, including, to be the #2 overall prospect in the draft, behind only Alexander Ovechkin. Do you feel any pressure regarding the upcoming draft?
E. Malkin: No, I don’t feel any pressure. I’ll get there and we’ll see what happens. I don’t really know what’s going to take place there. I have heard a bit from the older players, but still have very little idea of what the draft is like. I am not worried though. Why should I be? I already did everything within my power and can’t change anything now.

Many experts believe you will be picked second overall in the draft. The Pittsburgh Penguins currently hold this draft pick and will likely select you. What do you know about this NHL club?
E. Malkin: Honestly, I don’t really know too much about the club. I do know of several players who play there. I know that last year they drafted Fleury first overall. I also know that Mario Lemieux plays there.

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