DETROIT – Pavel Datsyuk is excited for his 13th NHL season after a sore left knee severely hampered his effectiveness in 2013-14 and forced the Red Wings’ star to miss 30 games in the final half of the season.
Though surgery wasn’t deemed necessary, it was an option following the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Datsyuk said. But at 36 years old, he’s glad that he chose to not travel that invasive-procedure route.
“After the Olympics it was questionable whether to do the surgery,” said Datsyuk, who played in the final 11 regular-season and playoff games. Though the knee was clearly bothering him in those last few games, Datsyuk still produced five goals and nine points with a plus-4 rating.
Datsyuk skated for two weeks prior to returning to Detroit, where he has participated in the team’s voluntary practices for the last two days at Joe Louis Arena. He’s skating without limitations, which at his age he said, is very good.
“It looks like the work has helped me,” he said, “and I don’t need the surgery. … I’m skating now and it feels much better. Nothing bothers me and we’ll see.”
Last season, Datsyuk topped a laundry list of Red Wings who missed significant playing time due to injuries. Despite the absences of key contributors like Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Darren Helm and Jonathan Ericcson, the Red Wings managed to coast into the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 23rd consecutive time.
Prior to last season, Datsyuk was universally considered to be one of – if not the best – two-way centers in the game. He’s still a magnificent talent, but recent injuries have taken a toll. Even at less than full strength he has managed to play at a high level, which was evident in the playoffs last spring.
“It was much better in a few games of the Boston series,” Datsyuk said of his knee. “I could push my knee but I lost a lot of muscle. Now everything has come back.”
With a bevy of centermen heading to training camp, coach Mike Babcock said last week that he plans to move Helm from third-line center to top-line winger with Datsyuk.
“He has good speed and good power and skill,” Datsyuk said of Helm. “If I use the skill it will be awesome. But I need to be the same speed as him, make sure there’s not two zones between us.”
The Helm move will give Riley Sheahan a chance to become the Wings’ third-line center, while Luke Glendening and Joakim Andersson will battle for the No. 4 spot.
One player who isn’t likely to return to Datsyuk’s line is Justin Abdelkader.
“Abby, you can tell he doesn’t want to pull the piano,” said Datsyuk, jokingly. “He’s tired.”
The Red Wings caught some backlash from fans and hockey pundits for not acquiring anybody through free agency this summer. But Datsyuk is comfortable with where the team is heading as the upcoming season quickly approaches.
“Everybody wish(es) we had new player but we don’t have it,” he said. “Now we just stick together and play our hockey and hope we don’t have many injuries. Then we’ll have a good chance, but if we have lots of injuries it will be tough again. … For the last three years we’ve been back and forth; it kills us.”