If only he let his teachers in on the plan, maybe then the Detroit Red Wings All-Star center, who says he always kept his dream of playing in the NHL to himself, would have been enrolled in an English class while attending school in Russia some 16 years ago.
“I know I needed English, but there were too many students, so they put me in a French class,” Datsyuk, in his broken but improving English, told NHL.com. “Our class needed to be split, and not 50-50. More like 70-30. I wanted to go to the English class.”
Datsyuk, who has been living in North America since 2001, still has issues with the language, which is why he prefers an altogether different dialect. Although the vernacular is non-verbal, it still tells the beautiful tales Datsyuk creates on a nightly basis in the National Hockey League.
“I use hockey language,” he said, this time without a break in his voice.
That may not be great news for the Detroit media, but you don’t hear the Red Wings complaining.
Datsyuk, who will make his second appearance in an NHL All-Star Game on Jan. 27 in Atlanta, this time as a starter thanks to an overwhelming fan vote, ranks with Joe Thornton and Sidney Crosby as hockey’s best talkers … err, playmakers.
“If you look at his individual skills, they’re tops in the League – the way he can stickhandle, come out of the corners with the puck, come down one-on-one with the puck,” Red Wings veteran defenseman and fellow All-Star starter Nicklas Lidstrom told NHL.com. “The things he can do with the puck look easy, but they’re really hard to do. Some of the times on the bench we’re in awe of what he’s doing. He’s got the playmaking skills where he can thread the needle and make those passes to find the open players. It’s fun to watch him play.”
“He’s got a great feel, a sixth sense,” added Red Wings coach Mike Babcock. “Like radar, he knows you’re going to be there.”
His unique playmaking skills aside, Datsyuk still thinks he can do more.
“I need to shoot,” the two-time Lady Byng Memorial Trophy winner said.
If there has been one knock on Datsyuk throughout his NHL career, that’s it. Despite scoring at least 27 goals in each of the past three seasons, Datsyuk needs to fire more pucks at the net.
But before you go calling him out for what seems to be his only flaw – if you even can call it that – remember that he comes from the old Russian school of hockey, where pretty, tic-tac-toe passing got you an “A” in offense.
“It has taken me six years to start shooting,” said Datsyuk, who still has 125 NHL goals, including 17 this season. “It’s a new generation out there with (Alex) Ovechkin and (Ilya) Kovalchuk. They like to shoot.”
Look at the numbers. Datsyuk is starting to enjoy it, too.
He ripped off 207 shots last season, 62 more than his previous career high of 145. This season he already has 159 shots, putting him on pace for roughly 270, which should land him in the top 20 in the NHL. Last season’s 207 were good for 65th place.
“With Pav, if he figures out something works, he’ll do it,” Babcock said. “He just decided it was time.”
“When I start shooting it just gives my partners more chance for rebounds,” added Datsyuk. “It opens up more room.”
“He has a really great wrist shot,” All-Star goalie Chris Osgood told The Detroit Free-Press. “He can score some beautiful goals.”
Only, history suggests that doesn’t really matter.
Even with just one 30-goal season, Datsyuk has been Detroit’s points’ leader since the lockout, finishing with 87 in each of the past two seasons. He has 55 through 47 games this season, which is only three behind fellow All-Star starter Henrik Zetterberg for the team lead.
Who cares if 38 of those points came via the pass?
“When he’s hot, it’s so much fun to play with him because he can do so much on the ice,” Tomas Holmstrom recently told reporters. “If you just keep your stick down, you know you’re going to get (the puck). You don’t really know how he does it.”
He speaks fluent Hockey, that’s how.
Who needs English?
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org