PITTSBURGH (AP) – Pittsburgh Penguins rookie Evgeni Malkin, re-examined by doctors on Monday, will not need surgery on his dislocated left shoulder but still could be sidelined up to six weeks.

Malkin, expected to team with Sidney Crosby to give the Penguins one of the NHL’s top center combinations, was injured during his first exhibition game Wednesday. Malkin collided with teammate John LeClair behind the net during a game in Moncton, New Brunswick.

The team did not set a timetable Monday for Malkin’s return, saying only that he will continue to rehabilitate. A common recovery time for an injury of Malkin’s nature is four to six weeks, though athletes have returned earlier from less severe separations.

If Malkin is out for a month, he likely will miss the Penguins’ first seven games. A six-week layoff would cause him to miss approximately 10 games.

Surgery likely would have forced Malkin to miss up to two-thirds of his rookie season – a major setback not only to his career but the Penguins’ hopes of improving this season following four consecutive last-place division finishes.

Despite being injured, the 20-year-old Malkin is expected to rejoin the team at West Point, N.Y., this week for four days of team-building exercises. The Penguins flew Monday from London, Ontario, where they played an exhibition game Sunday, to West Point, and do not play another exhibition game until Friday.

It is uncertain how much physical work Malkin can do during the West Point camp, but teammates said the injury appears to be less serious than they initially feared it might be.

“The way he went down, I was just hoping he was going to get up,” Crosby said. “It was pretty scary the way he went down over Johnny like that. The way he hit the ice, I wasn’t sure if it was his neck or his face or what it was.”

Malkin, previously considered the best player not playing in the NHL, left his Metallurg Magnitogorsk team of the Russian Super League during training camp in Helsinki, Finland, last month to make a clandestine journey to the United States and begin his NHL career.

He was under contract for another year there, but was allowed to sign an NHL contract because there is no transfer agreement between the Russia, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the NHL that compensates Russian teams for players who leave for the NHL.

Malkin also resigned from the team, citing a Russian labor law that permits an employee to leave a job by giving two weeks notice.

A Russian arbitration panel has ruled that Malkin is still under contract to Magnitogorsk, and the team is threatening to file suit in the United States to receive compensation for losing Malkin.

The Penguins open the season Oct. 5 at home against Philadelphia.

AP-ES-09-25-06 1742EDT

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