At the World Championships in the Czech Republic last May, veteran Russian defenseman Evgeny Medvedev had a lot on his mind. Most of it had nothing to do with the tournament's results.
Medvedev's focus was on his conversations with teammates Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Bobrovsky. Feeling tempted to accept an offer to join the Philadelphia Flyers, Medvedev sought the opinions of his countrymen who had already left Russia and went on to star in the NHL.
"They were making jokes," Medvedev, who turned 33 in August, recently told ESPN through an interpreter. "They said, 'Isn't it too late to come to the NHL?'"
Despite the lack of overwhelming support, the decision Medvedev was wrestling with was pretty much already made. Three days after the tournament, he signed a one-year contract worth $3 million with the Flyers, where the three-time KHL All-Star, two-time Gagarin Cup champion and 2014 Olympic stalwart will be one of the least-heralded but most-decorated 'rookies' in the NHL this season.
"Flyers were interested for a long time," Medvedev said. "The reason why now's the right time is the Olympic Games. I wanted to prepare at home. Since that's over now, I thought now was the time to try."
"Homer (Paul Holmgren) talked to him a few years ago, so it's been ongoing," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said. "At this point, I feel he was a fit with what we needed from a defenseman and we were or a fit for what he wanted."
So just how rare is it for a Russian of Medvedev's age to take his first crack at the NHL?
Well, of the 205 players from either Russia or the former Soviet Union to ever play in the NHL, only 38-year-old Helmuts Balderis ever debuted in North America at an older age than Medvedev, when he came out of retirement and suited up in 26 games with the Minnesota North Stars when the Iron Curtain was lifted in 1990.
Medvedev's migration to Philadelphia isn't just an anomaly from a hockey standpoint. Besides never having played outside of Europe, he'd never even visited the United States until signing his first NHL contract.
"There's a guy, Vyacheslav. He's a skating coach and my main helper," Medvedev said. "He's explained a couple of things about living here. The thing he said I have to remember is with food, always look for the sticker with 'organic' on it.
"But this is my first time ever in the States. I think I'm adjusting well. Language barrier is the only problem so far."
In training camp, Medvedev has mostly been partnered with Radko Gudas, the wrecking ball-shaped defenseman whom the Flyers acquired from Tampa Bay last March in the deal that sent Braydon Coburn to the Lightning. Gudas has been impressed with Medvedev.
"He's played a few games in the preseason, and I think he's adjusted good," Gudas said. "He's scored a few goals, gotten a few apples. The only thing is, he's still working on the English. It's hard to understand each other out there sometimes."
As Gudas explains it, his on-ice communication with Medvedev is based on working with what tools they do have. The duo combines to speak six different languages; however, they don't have a single common language, forcing them to splice similar aspects of one language with another, creating a unique dialect that sounds like something between gibberish and genius.
"I speak Czech, English, German, a little Swedish, a little Finnish, and he speaks Russian," Gudas, who is Czech, said. "Russian and Czech are similar. I have a couple words that I know, and he has his couple words of English. We scramble something between Russian, Czech and English.
"None of the words we use are good words. All bad words. I cannot repeat them."
Profanity-laced, primal screams and yells in the vague shape of civil communication? Sounds like a fit in Philadelphia.
The Flyers hope Medvedev and Gudas fit in just as much on the ice. With Philadelphia still wearing the albatross of the lucrative long-term contracts of underperforming veterans such as Vincent Lecavalier, Andrew MacDonald and R.J. Umberger, and general manager Ron Hextall unwilling to rush the team's elite prospects to the NHL, the Flyers had little flexibility to make moves during the offseason.
As Philadelphia's lack of salary cap space prevented Hextall from chasing high-profile free agents, much of the team's capacity to improve will be based on Medvedev, who is one of the only additions to a roster that finished 12th in the Eastern Conference last season.
"I think his game is continuing to adjust," new Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. "First impressions were excellent. Everything he does in a daily basis is focused and sharp. He's still got room to adjust and things to adjust to. But I think he's making steps every day."
Although Medvedev is an unknown commodity to most North American observers, he seems to have the makeup to succeed in the NHL. Although not big, physical or much of a scorer, he's quick, smooth and makes clever plays with the puck, which should be welcome attributes on a Flyers defense that was lacking in all three of those areas last season.
"I am not the biggest guy in the locker room," Medvedev, who is about 6-foot and 190 pounds, said. "I'm going to help by bringing something else with my skills. I have to follow instructions and avoid mistakes.
"My goal is to show I'm worthy of this league. I want to prove it to the skeptics who thought I might never make it to the NHL."
Given his pedigree, there's no reason to think Medvedev won't successfully adapt to the NHL.
However, if Medvedev cannot adjust and the Flyers sag further away from being championship contenders, there's little doubt he'll hear it from the always-boisterous Philadelphia crowd. And even if Medvedev's sparse English isn't quite up to snuff, there's little doubt he'll know exactly what the Philadelphia fans are saying.
After all, there are certain forms of communication that don't quite need an interpreter.