The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/27/11 at 01:18 PM ET
As noted by the Red Wings’ website, Pavel Datsyuk was named a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward, and Sports Illustrated’s Brian Cazenueve profiled the Wings forward in nothing less than a frame-worthy article:
THE RED WINGS discovered Datsyuk as a teenager quite by accident in 1997, when their chief European scout Hakan Andersson went to Moscow to watch someone else. Instead he saw the 19-year-old Datsyuk, then about 5’7” and 150 pounds—he goes 5’11”, 194 now—but with magic hands and hockey sense beyond his years. Andersson convinced Holland to take the wispy sprite with the 171st pick in the 1998 entry draft. Datsyuk was certain his Dynamo club teammates were kidding when they told him he’d been drafted into the NHL. “They showed me the newspaper two days later,” Datsyuk says, “And I thought, ‘O.K., printing mistake.’”
He also wondered, So now what? Life in his hometown of Sverdlovsk (which has since reclaimed its pre-Soviet name of Yekaterinburg), an industrial city near the Ural Mountains, had been so simple. His family’s fourth-floor walk-up overlooked an outdoor rink. He learned to anticipate hockey moves by playing chess several hours a week, and he developed outstanding balance and his ability to control pucks with his skates by playing ice soccer. His mother, Galina, a cook, died when he was 16—his father, Valery, a van driver, passed away a few years later—after she had taught him the humility that defines him on and off the ice. When Pavel met his future wife, Svetlana, at age 18, he was too modest to tell her he was a hockey player. Though Datsyuk has often been praised for his unselfish passing game, he says it was actually born of practicality. “I didn’t like to shoot,” he says, “because I didn’t want to buy a new stick if I broke one.”
When Datsyuk showed up for Detroit’s rookie camp in 1999, Holland had no idea what he was getting. Other skilled, undersized European players were intent on showing off by making risky offensive plays, but Datsyuk was almost too modest to flaunt his abilities. “He was always high in the offensive zone, very safe,” Holland recalls. “I didn’t see him as a very dynamic player.”
After letting Datsyuk work on his game in Russia for two more years, the Red Wings finally brought him to Detroit in 2001. The Wings won the Cup that season, and Datsyuk knew he had found a home. In an early-season game in L.A., his giveaway had led to a Kings overtime goal. The next day the team was on a bus to the rink when teammate Igor Larionov, a 40-year-old fellow Russian, consoled him. “He expected the coaches to yell at him or something bad,” Larionov recalls. “It was my job to tell him it was O.K. ‘Learn from it. You’ll be better,’ I told him.”
Datsyuk wasn’t a goal scorer right away. He scored just 23 goals over his first two seasons, and the Detroit brass told him to shoot more often. The next year he scored 30. They asked him to work on face-offs, so he’d repeat them after practice as if they were a detention punishment. “He had these natural gifts of an All-Star,” recalls captain Nicklas Lidstrom, “but he also worked and worked at all the little things the way a fourth-line guy would. That’s why what you see today is one of the best players in the NHL.”
Continued, and the article’s more than worth your time.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.