OTTAWA – How good is Pavel Datsyuk
in the eyes of his opponents?
He was Zdeno Chara’s first overall selection in Thursday’s All-Star Fantasy Draft, picked over the Bruin defenseman’s own Conn Smythe winning goaltender Tim Thomas.
That’s quite the honor for the Detroit dangler, who ranks third in the league in points (53) and assists (39) at the All-Star break.
“Datsyuk is an unbelievable player and I admire the way he plays,” Chara said about making Datsyuk the top overall pick. “It was my individual goal to get him first.”
That’s just one of many ringing endorsements from a locker room of the league’s best players.
“He’s a humble guy, a very nice guy, but an extremely competitive player as well,” said Flames winger Jarome Iginla. “He’s fun to watch, but even more enjoyable to have as a teammate.”
And on All-Star Saturday, with the best players in the sport showcasing their skills to a sold out Scotiabank Place, Datsyuk provided a ‘pinch me’ type of moment for second-year Oilers forward Jordan Eberle, who tweeted during the competition about hanging out with the Red Wings center during the event.
“He’s a guy that I have always looked up to as a player trying to make it in this league. He is one of the best and it’s neat to just be around him.”
Eberle, his heroics against the Russians in World Junior play well documented, couldn’t help but continue to gush about Pasha.
“It’s just the way he plays the game. He’s just so good with his stick, defensively and offensively. He may be one of the best two-way players in the game.”
Another guy happy to have Datsyuk on his side is Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell, who certainly had his fill of dekes and dangles during three seasons spent with the Chicago Blackhawks.
“He’s a complete player,” Campbell said. “He plays in all situations. He can win a game for you and that’s what makes him great. That’s why guys want to play with him.”
“It will be nice to be on his side tomorrow. Sure, there are a lot other guys to worry about, but it’s a positive having him on my team.”
As for Jimmy Howard
, who despite leading the league in wins with 30, was the last goaltender selected in the 10th round. He’s managed to swing the eyeballs of those who know him best, opponents in the Western Conference.
“He keeps getting better,” Iginla said. “You see him gaining more and more confidence with every single game. And with the way he’s played at home, he’s proven himself to be a very good goalie.”
Howard did not, as he initially feared, spill in Saturday’s Fastest Skater competition, though bested by Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick. His stop of Jason Pominville in the Tim Hortons Elimination Shootout helped seal a victory for Steven Stamkos.
“For the most part, I was telling myself to be careful and don’t hurt yourself,” Howard said of his Skills Competition experience, which has added importance to the Ogdensburg, New York native, given the presence of several family members who made the short drive up the 416.
“It’s great. I’m very fortunate that I’m able to be so close to home and I’m thankful everyone could make it up here.”
Thankful also describes the thoughts of Datsyuk on the praise leveled upon by his colleagues. It’s not every day your peers deem you one of the best, if not the best two-way player in the sport.
“It’s awesome,” Datsyuk said. “I appreciate that they call me that. It’s kind of what we do together as a team, but I’m happy that they call me like that.”Notes: University of Michigan alum Carl Hagelin won the Fastest Skater Competition … Howard was wearing a GoPro camera for NHL.com and DetroitRedWings.com … Patrick Kane won the Breakaway Challenge, showing off his skills as Superman, voting was done by the fans via text message … Jamie Benn, the last selection for Team Chara won the Accuracy Shooting Challenge … Datsyuk on wanting to play on the same line as Evgeni Malkin, “Of course I want to play with him. That way we can speak Russian and nobody can understand us.”