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Penguins centre Evgeni Malkin emerging as the NHL's silent superstar

The Canadian Press
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Pittsburgh Penguins\' Evgeni Malkin, of Russia, celebrates an assist Feb. 19, 2008. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Gene J. Puskar Author: The Hockey News

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Penguins centre Evgeni Malkin emerging as the NHL's silent superstar

The Canadian Press
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Fresh off being named the NHL's first star of the month, Evgeni Malkin took part in a league conference call and brought along Pittsburgh Penguins teammate Sergei Gonchar to translate his answers from Russian to English.

He's been living in North America for a little over 18 months so it was asked of Gonchar if Malkin understood more English than he lets on. "Yes," interrupted Malkin with a laugh.

It was the only word of English he spoke during more than 20 minutes on the phone with the media on Monday.

The 21-year-old is the NHL's Silent Superstar.

He has thrived on the ice since Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was injured midway through January and led the entire league in scoring heading into Monday's games.

Still, very few fans know much about Malkin. Even his teammates find him quiet around the locker-room.

"He's a fun guy to be around but he doesn't talk much," said Gonchar. "But at the same time, he makes (little) jokes and smiles a lot."

The veteran defenceman has had more insight than most.

Malkin has lived with Gonchar and his family since fleeing his Russian club team Magnitogorsk in August 2006. He's known to play with Gonchar's daughter Natalie from time to time but otherwise mostly keeps to himself.

"He's quiet around the house," said Gonchar. "He spends a lot of time on the internet reading newspapers and chatting with his buddies back home ...

"He's a good housemate."

Even the Penguins media guide offers few clues about Malkin. Unlike most of his teammates, there is no section that includes personal information about him.

One thing that is clear from watching Malkin play is his enthusiasm for the game. His goal celebrations are among the more animated you'll see and Penguins fans have seen a fair share of those this season.

He has 37 goals and 51 assists for 88 points through 67 games - surpassing his total of 85 points from last year, when he won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.

Malkin has found life as an NHLer to be even easier during his second season.

"It was much tougher last year," he said by way of a translation from Gonchar. "I feel much more comfortable now thanks to my teammates and the people around Pittsburgh."

His relationship with Gonchar has been an important part of that increased comfort level.

Malkin says he probably wouldn't have had as much success this early in his career without the opportunity to live with another Russian and learn from him.

"He's helping me off the ice with the little things so I guess I'm lucky to be playing with ... such an old guy," Malkin said of Gonchar.

As time goes on and Malkin gets more comfortable with English, it's likely that fans will learn more about a player the Penguins call "Gino" - Evgeni is Russian for the name Eugene.

He should be getting more time in the spotlight soon as possibly the second consecutive Pittsburgh player to win the Hart Trophy as league MVP following Crosby. Malkin has even vowed to take the stage without a translator if he were to win that award this June in Toronto.

Gonchar wouldn't be surprised to see it happen. The 33-year-old has spent more than a decade in the NHL and thinks Malkin should be considered among the league's best.

"He has the potential," said Gonchar. "If you look at him, the way he's playing, he's not only playing well by himself and scoring those points but he's making people around him better.

"He definitely has a chance. I don't know if it's going to be this year or next year but I'm sure at some point in his career he's going to be very close to it and might win it."

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Penguins centre Evgeni Malkin emerging as the NHL's silent superstar