When Milan Michalek first arrived in San Jose, he was an apprehensive 18-year-old able to speak only the most basic English.

"It was very hard," said the Czech Republic native. "I could barely understand what the coaches were saying."

The Michalek who returns to HP Pavilion on Thursday night with the surprising Ottawa Senators has blossomed into one of the NHL's top goal scorers. Now a poised veteran at 27, he has nothing but warm memories of his first NHL home -- both on and off the ice.

"It's really where I grew up," said Michalek, who already has 23 goals, just three shy of his career high with the Sharks in 2006-07. "I can still remember how nice everyone was to me when I first came here. I can never thank the guys there enough. They just helped me so much."