Age: 29 | Height: 6-foot-3 | Weight: 195 lb.
Hardware: 2009 stanley cup and Conn Smythe Trophy; 2012 Hart trophy
I hear you’re quite funny on social media, but I don’t speak Russian.
I don’t tweet a lot—it’s a long time I’m not tweeting. Now I use Instagram. But I’m not very funny. You think I’m funny?
I hear that you’re goofy.
Oh my God, it’s not true. Maybe I’m funny in life, but I’m not very funny on the Internet. Most times I’m funny it’s with my friends, my family.
And you pull pranks in the dressing room.
What do you mean? What are pranks?
Jokes. Like the time you messed with Sidney Crosby’s stick.
Oh, sometimes. It’s because it’s a long season and everyone has tough games—we need to relax a little bit. We have funny moments, sometimes “Flower” [Marc-André Fleury] or me or Crosby. He’s a funny guy, too, Crosby. He always uses black tape, he never changes. One time I just gave him white. [Laughs.] He’s funny, he says “I’m gonna try it.” I tape his stick because it’s fun.
You use white tape on your stick, right?
I change it. Sometimes, if I don’t play well, I change to black. But most of the time I play with white.
How do you come up with new stickhandling moves?
I watch lots of games and different teams—Chicago, Islanders, Rangers. I watch different players and look for moves. But sometimes I think about myself, what I can do, what can I try. It’s work in practice. If you don’t do it, you can’t do it in the game, because you won’t remember.
Who has the best hands in the league?
[Patrick] Kane, [John] Tavares, Crosby. They have lots of good skills. Sometimes you try what they do and it doesn’t work; I don’t know how they do it. But sometimes it works and you do it, too.
Growing up in Magnitogorsk, Russia, what was your childhood like?
It was a regular life. I have a brother, and lots of friends on my street. I spent time in school, went to practice, came back home, did my homework. I spent most of my time on my street with my friends; we played soccer, we played hockey, we played basketball, we played everything. Same routine every day. That was life. I was not focused only on hockey—I enjoyed my life with friends and family.
I heard a funny story about your first pair of skates.
Yeah. I don’t remember, but my father says that when I was little and I didn’t have skates, he gave me his. His size was way bigger than mine: I was five and he was 30. [Laughs.] He gave me his speedskates and I tried them and I remember they were huge. My feet were moving inside, but it was fun. After that they bought me new ones.
You make skating look easy.
No, it’s not easy. [Laughs.] It’s all practice. You work hard on your game, so sometimes it looks easy, but it’s not.
How old were you when you thought hockey could be a career?
I think my parents always thought about hockey for me. But for myself, maybe it’s 11 or 12 years old, when we started to practice more. We practised twice a day and we started to travel to different cities to play other teams.
I was captain—coach gave me “C”—and I started thinking, “It’s my life, it’s very important for me.” I was captain of this team, and we started winning lots. We won not every tournament, but we won lots. I started thinking I liked this game, it’s good for me, I’m good. We travelled around Russia, we saw different cities, it was fun. Sometimes we were on the bus for 11 hours with 20 guys. Of course it was fun, we played cards. After that, I think it’s my life.
Your parents are quite short.
Yeah, I don’t know why I’m tall. My grandfather is really tall. Maybe I’m like him. I was really short, too, but one year, I think I was 15, I grew probably five inches. My parents said, “Thank you, God.”
What was it like moving to Pittsburgh from Russia? It must have been scary.
A little bit, yes. But it was good for me because [Sergei] Gonchar played with Pittsburgh that year. He called me and said, “Come, I will help you. This is it. You have to come, it’s everything.”
Of course Pittsburgh’s organization helped me, they met me at the airport, I went to the house. It was my dream. Everyone was waiting for me, the city was ready. Maybe I was scared a little, but after I saw what was going on around me in the city, I wasn’t scared because everything was easy. I was comfortable, I played hockey, I lived with Gonchar. He helped me with everything.
What’s it like for you back home now? You must be recognized everywhere you go.
Yeah. People love hockey in Russia. World championship, Olympic Games—all the time they watch hockey. They know everything about me, [Pavel] Datsyuk. When I come back, some people try to take selfies.
It’s not work for me, I like it. It’s my life, and I like to talk to kids and fans. Parents come and say, “My kid plays hockey, you are his favourite player.” It’s good because it’s my life and kids play like Malkin. It’s amazing.
You talk about Sidney Crosby a fair bit. He talks about you, too. But are you tired of talking about him?
Really? It must get old.
[Laughs.] I mean, it’s nothing new. I always say the same thing.
He’s the best player in the NHL. I’m always saying that and I never change my thinking.
And that’s that?