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World Cup

Pavel Datsyuk enjoying move to KHL

Team Russia forward excelling early in season with SKA St. Petersburg

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Pavel Datsyuk didn't have to travel far to get to Team Russia's training camp for the World Cup of Hockey 2016.

St. Petersburg is Datsyuk's hockey home now after retiring from the NHL in June following 14 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings. But two weeks into the KHL season, the 38-year-old center is on sabbatical from SKA St. Petersburg to play in the World Cup. 

Datsyuk joined Team Russia for practice Tuesday at Yubileyny Sports Palace. He and the three other KHL players on the roster were excused from the initial training camp practice Monday because they played in games over the weekend.

Datsyuk, who scored a goal in SKA St. Petersburg's 5-1 victory against Nizhnekamsk on Sunday, said Tuesday he is looking forward to putting on the Team Russia jersey. He also played in the World Cup the last time it was held, in 2004 when he was 26. 

"It's going to be a good tournament," Datsyuk said. "There are lots of good teams and it's a good level [of play]. It's good for hockey players, for the fans and for everybody."

The Red Wings would have been happy to have Datsyuk back for the final season of his contract after he had 16 goals and 33 assists in 66 games last season. But for family reasons he wanted to return to Russia to close his career and signed a two-year contract with SKA St. Petersburg. 

He seems to be enjoying the homecoming. He has four goals and three assists in six games.

"It's home, so it's been unbelievable," Datsyuk said. "It's part of my life now."

Because of the World Cup, Datsyuk will return to North America temporarily and face a lot of familiar faces from his not-so-distant NHL days. The tournament will be held at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. 

Team Russia plays its preliminary-round opener against Team Sweden on Sept. 18 (3 p.m. ET; ESPN, SN, TVA Sports). Although Datsyuk will have a chance to catch up with some old friends while in Toronto, he made it clear, "We're coming here to work."

"But of course when you have time to see people, friends, you can," he said.

GETTING IN LINE: With the four KHL players joining the group, practice Tuesday provided a more complete look at Team Russia's forward lines. After skating with Chicago Blackhawks teammate Artem Anisimov and Vladislav Namestnikov of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday, left wing Artemi Panarin was reunited Tuesday with former SKA St. Petersburg linemates Vadim Shipachyov and Evgeny Dadonov.

Datsyuk centered the fourth line between Ivan Telegin, who plays for CSKA Moscow in the KHL, and Namestnikov, with Anisimov rotating in.

The top line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nikita Kucherov, and the second line of Nikolay Kulemin, Evgeni Malkin and Vladimir Tarasenko, remained intact from Monday.

Team Russia coach Oleg Znarok said the top three lines are set, but he has a decision to make on the fourth line.

Panarin, Shipachyov and Dadonov had great success as a line in helping SKA St. Petersburg win the Gagarin Cup in 2014-15. Panarin led that team that season with 62 points (26 goals, 36 assists) in 54 regular-season games. Shipachyov was third with 54 points (12 goals, 42 assists) and Dadonov was fourth with 46 points (19 goals, 27 assists).

Following that season, Panarin signed with the Blackhawks and won the Calder Trophy last season after leading NHL rookies with 30 goals, 47 assists and 77 points.

CAPTAIN COMING: Znarok said a decision on Team Russia's captain and alternate captains likely would be made later in the day Tuesday, with an official announcement expected Wednesday.

Datsyuk served as Russia's captain for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

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