So far in his very young NHL career Alexander Burmistrov has been totally unflappable, showing an incredible maturity for his 19 years as he hangs onto pucks and takes slashes and jabs from bigger, more experienced NHL players. He has drawn twice as many penalties as he has taken, leading the NHL in that category due to his composure.
His coaches might want to keep a close eye on him against Detroit on Wednesday night though, because he might because he might have a special greeting planned for his favorite active NHL player, Pavel Datsyuk (his all-time favorite is Igor Larionov, for who he wears #8), who he has never faced on the ice.
Will he try to talk to the perennial all-star sometime on game day?
"No, just try to slash him in the faceoff maybe," joked the likable 19-year-old who seems to have a permanent grin stuck on his face.
"Now I don't want to meet him because we play against each other and I don't care."
Maybe the precocious rookie just doesn't want to feel star-struck in front of his fellow Russian, or maybe he's just showing deference to the NHL veteran. After all, this is the same rookie who apologized to one of his Thrasher linemates earlier this season because he wasn't able to set him up for any goals while they were playing a key shutdown role against one of the NHL's top lines.
Regardless of what he says he certainly does care about facing Datsyuk, the three-time Selke Trophy winner who Burmistrov models his game after. The two have met, but odds are Datsyuk doesn't remember those encounters in Kazan when Datsyuk was breaking out with Burmistrov's hometown team a season before making his NHL debut with Detroit. Burmistrov was just eight years old at the time, and Datsyuk routinely gave him sticks.
"I'm very excited," admitted Burmistrov after Sunday night's game against the Islanders, three days before the Thrashers were scheduled to face the red Wings. "Datsyuk is my favorite player. He's amazing and I watch him all the time. When we play against him and I'm not on the ice I will just watch how this guy plays. Enjoy it, and learn."
Like Datsyuk, Burmistrov thrives at both ends of the ice, shutting down opponents while also displaying mind-boggling puck skills in the offensive zone, and he's been looking forward to the matchup since the day he was drafted be the Thrashers. As soon as he got his hands on an Atlanta schedule at the draft in Los Angeles he scanned it to find out if and when his new team faced the Red Wings.
"The first game I looked for. I looked to see when we play against Detroit. Now it happens next game."
In a game that will feature two of the most explosive offenses in the NHL, two of the league's three highest scoring defenseman (Dustin Byfuglien and Nicklas Lidstrom) and a team on the rise versus one of the most storied franchise sin hockey history, the most interesting storyline just might be how high Burmistrov can raise his game to impress his favorite NHL player. Can he possibly top this downright Datsyukian goal from Friday night's game versus Washington?