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No holes in Zetterberg's game

by Brian Compton

Henrik Zetterberg is a Selke Trophy candidate, which is given to the League’s top defensive forward. Zetterberg highlight video
Perhaps the only thing more remarkable than the skill of Detroit Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg is the fact that 209 players were selected ahead of him in the 1999 Entry Draft.

One could certainly make the case that the 27-year-old is the NHL’s best all-round player. Not only did he enjoy new highs in goals (43) and points (92) this season, but Zetterberg was also stellar in his own end of the ice. So good, in fact, that he is a Selke Trophy candidate, an award that is given to the League’s top defensive forward.

“I think it’s always been part of my game,” Zetterberg said. “Growing up as a centerman in Sweden, that’s a big part of your game and you take a lot of pride in it. I think it’s been like that ever since I started playing hockey. I just enjoy playing defensive hockey, too.”

As does his linemate, Pavel Datsyuk, who also is a Selke candidate. Perhaps the fact that two of the game’s top defensive forwards skate on the same line is one of the reasons why the Red Wings racked up 115 points during the regular season. Or is it because Zetterberg and Datsyuk combined for 189 points in 2007-08?

Whatever the case is, it truly is remarkable that two players as highly skilled as Zetterberg and Datsyuk can skate on the same line and be so effective. Usually, it’s one player carrying a line. But Zetterberg and Datsyuk have a chemistry that is rarely seen between two players with this much talent. With Tomas Holmstrom on the other wing, the Red Wings clearly possess one of the most formidable lines in the League.

“I think ever since the start, we’ve enjoyed playing with each other,” Zetterberg said. “For much of my first year, I played with Pavel and Brett Hull. Since then, I’ve been playing with Pavel. It’s been working great. We like to play the same style of hockey. It’s a great mix for us. I think ‘Holmer’ creates a lot of room and gives us that extra second to make the right play.”

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock believes chemistry evolves through hard work and sacrifice. Zetterberg (plus-30) and Datsyuk (plus-41, 144 takeaways) have exhibited both of those characteristics throughout their careers, and when that’s combined with their ability to read plays, it makes them one of the most dynamic duos in recent history.

“They like playing together,” Babcock said. “They’re both real good offensively, real good defensively with great hockey sense. They’re real effective when we play them apart and they’re real effective together. They’re exciting players. The thing we like about them is they’re so usable in all situations. They share hockey sense – they see it happening before most people do.”

Datsyuk was drafted the year before Zetterberg was – in the sixth round (is it any wonder why Detroit is consistently one of the League’s top teams?). And even though it’s clear Zetterberg should have been a top-10 selection in 1999 – the New York Rangers took Pavel Brendl fourth overall – the sensational Swede said he was not upset about having to wait so long before his name was finally called in Round 7.

In fact, he was actually shocked.

“I’m not the biggest guy now, but I was even smaller at the time of my draft year,” Zetterberg said. “It was happy that I got drafted. I didn’t speak to a lot of teams. I think it was the Red Wings and maybe one other team that showed interest. I was really surprised when (Director of European Scouting) Hakan Andersson called me and told me that I was drafted.”

Since then, Zetterberg has reached rock-star status in his native Sweden. His girlfriend is Swedish television star Emma Andersson. His clothing line – Zatacollection – was launched in 2006 and has been a huge success.

But with so much attention these days being focused on the likes of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, does Zetterberg receive the accolades he so richly deserves?

He thinks so.

“I’m here to play hockey – that’s my job,” Zetterberg said. “I like doing that here and it’s a great town to do that. I think I get the recognition that I deserve.”

Detroit is being recognized for what it has been for much of this season – a League powerhouse. The Red Wings held off a late surge from the San Jose Sharks to win the Presidents' Trophy. They knocked off the Nashville Predators in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs before decimating the Colorado Avalanche in Round 2.

They enter the Western Conference Finals facing the fifth-seeded Stars, who have eliminated the defending champion Anaheim Ducks and San Jose in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Zetterberg thought for sure the road to the Stanley Cup Final would have gone through one of those two cities.

Instead, though, the Wings will have to get past Dallas in order to reach the Finals for the first time since 2002.

“You thought if you were going all the way to the Finals you would have seen at least one of those teams,” Zetterberg said. “It’s been a different look this year. We’ve played some teams we haven’t (played) in a while. It’s been fun for us and it’s been fun for the fans.”

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