DETROIT — On Tuesday, Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk was announced as one-of-three finalists for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, an award he’s been nominated for six times in his 13 NHL seasons.
An honor bestowed upon players who exhibit the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability, Datsyuk had previously won the award in four consecutive seasons from 2005-06 to 2008-09. Datsyuk was nominated alongside former teammate and current Calgary Flames center Jiri Hudler as well as Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar.
“I think Pav is head and shoulders above anyone I’ve ever seen or played with just in terms of taking the puck away and positionally,” center Riley Sheahan said. “Even when he has the puck on his stick it’s impossible to take it away from him. He’s unbelievable I think everyone can see that watching him. His mindset is a little bit different than everybody else.”
Lady Byng honors typically go toward the player who is the most productive in terms of offense with the fewest penalty minutes. For Datsyuk, he managed to score 26 goals — the most since the 2009-10 season when he scored 27 — and totaled 65 points in 63 games of work. The superstar center spent much of the season bouncing in and out of the lineup missing 19 games with injuries ranging from a separated shoulder suffered in the preseason to lower-body injuries sustained in the second half of the season.
Despite the injuries, Datsyuk was certainly productive when in the lineup and on the ice. In his first six games of the season, he scored five goals and 10 points and never went more than three games without a point in 2014-15.
Being a productive scorer on one end is challenging enough, but to be named a Lady Byng candidate a player’s game must be well rounded at both ends of the ice.
“It’s tough especially when you have the offensive talent he does,” Sheahan said. “A lot of guys just take pride in their offense and they don’t really work on their defensive part of the game. Pav’s sound on both ends of the ice and I think a lot of the offense that’s generated with him or his line is created by plays he makes in the D-zone.”
While his dekes, moves and finishes make for some unbelievable highlights, Datsyuk’s defensive plays are equally astonishing to teammate Joakim Andersson.
“He’s a different kind of player the way he plays defense with his stick not many guys can do that,” Andersson said. “His stick is so strong and he puts it in such good spaces and steal pucks from other guys sticks, not many guys can do that. Then obviously, he’s doing the right thing with his body, he’s on the right side and all those things as well.”
Datsyuk’s defensive skills seem to come out of nowhere at times, stealing the puck off of the opponent’s stick with such ease. To be as efficient as he is in this aspect while limiting his penalty minutes to just eight this season is a remarkable accomplishment in a league so geared toward offense and open space.
“I imagine it’s pretty hard (to limit penalty minutes) because I had a whole lot more than that down in the minors playing,” forward Landon Ferraro said. “I mean he’s just so good with his stick, little plays, even when he has the puck or when he doesn’t, sometimes he just leaves the puck and smacks a stick out of the way or pushes a leg. That one little move creates a ton of space for him. He thinks the game on a whole other level than the rest of us so it’s pretty special to watch.”
Recalled by the Wings two weeks ago, Ferraro has been in awe of the Magic Man and is quite familiar of what Datsyuk is capable of despite playing in just six games this season.
“I mean I think I got drafted six years ago so I mean I remember my first camp and I was on the fourth line he was on the first and we ended up out together,” Ferraro said. “I gave him a terrible pass and he just took it with ease and kept skating. You know what he’s capable of. It’s special to get to watch.”
This was Datsyuk’s sixth Lady Byng nomination as he’s joined by first-timers Hudler and Kopitar eligible to receive the honor on June 24 when the winners are announced in Las Vegas at the NHL awards ceremony.
Only four players in the NHL played in more games with fewer penalty minutes than Datsyuk, including the Sharks’ Ben Smith (80 games, two PIM), Sabres’ Matt Moulson (77 GP, four PIM), Senators’ Cody Ceci (81 GP, six PIM) and the Wild’s Jared Spurgeon (66 GP, six PIM).
“It’s impressive,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “If you look back at the years that he’s played in this league he would probably be nominated every year, and a good chance winning every year. He’s a special player and it’s awesome to see that he gets rewarded.”