Pavel Datsyuk (Павел Датсюк — pronounced "dat - sook") is one of a multitude of Russian players that have played in the National Hockey League. He's a part of the continuous wave of Russians making the jump from various Russian Super League teams and the Russian National Team (formerly the Red Army, back before the breakup of the USSR). The trend started in the late 1980s when players from communist countries weren't allowed to play in the NHL, and had to defect during international play tournaments, like Sergei Makarov, Sergei Fedorov, Dmitri Khristich, and others have done.
Datsyuk had almost no professional hockey experience under his belt when he was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the sixth round of the 1998 NHL entry draft. At the time he'd played in only 24 games for Yekaterineburg Dynamo in the 1997-98 season, during which he picked up only 8 points total (3g/5a), a rather diminutive total for a natural center. He ended up sitting out the 1998-99 season for unspecified reasons, and then rejoined Yekaterinburg for the 1999-00 season, but he still wasn't seeing much playing time, as he appeared in only 15 games this time, scoring even less than before. The general attitude towards him by NHL scouts was that he was not much of a playmaker, and might someday make a somewhat decent fourth-line center.
For the 2000-01 season, Pavel moved to Kazan and joined the team there, the Kazan AK-Bars. His playing time increased exponentially, and he played out the full season, missing only a few games, and racking up 26 points (9g/17a) while centering the team's first line with future NHLer Sergei Zolotov and Russian mainstay Alexei Tertyshny. Despite his relative inexperience, he decided to join the Red Wings after Kazan's season ended, and made the club out of training camp in 2001-02. Pavel ended up making the NHL's "YoungStars" team that season. As of this writing he has never played a minor league game, and it doesn't look like he'll ever have to, as he is rapidly developing his skills and is coming to be known as one of the game's top playmakers.
Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman liked what he saw in Datsyuk, and played him regularly on a line with Boyd Devereaux and legendary sniper Brett Hull. That line, dubbed "Two Kids and a Goat" by Hull, turned out to be the Wings' most consistent line that season, at the conclusion of which they won the Stanley Cup, with Pavel playing a significant role during the playoffs and scoring several crucial goals. His no-nonsense style of play and his constantly-improving stick and puck handling have made him a valuable asset to all of Detroit's aging scorers and a favourite of the coaching staff. His quiet determination has also impressed the often wry Hull, who took to giving him pep talks and teaching him what he knew about scoring on NHL-caliber goalies.
The following season, 2002-03, saw Pavel miss some time while recovering from a leg injury suffered near mid-season. He returned from the injury to collect 27 points in the team's final 17 games, all but two of which they won or tied, though he (and most of the rest of the team) was kept scoreless by an upstart Anaheim team during the first round of the playoffs that year.
In his third full season, Pavel really took things up a notch and was consistently among the league leaders in scoring. The 2003-04 season also saw him named to his first All-Star team. A majority of hockey writers seem to think that he should be an All-Star starter, centering Bill Guerin and Todd Bertuzzi on the Western Conference's top line. Instead, the more well-known and beloved Mike Modano was voted to start by the fans, despite his inconsistency and lack of production during the 03-04 season. Instead, Pavel was selected as a reserve on the All-Star team, and ended up centering the West's third line, with Rick Nash on left wing and Jarome Iginla on right wing.
Pavel doesn't speak too much English, as he didn't start learning it until his move to the USA to play for Detroit, so he rarely is interviewed by the sporting press. That being the case, there is little personal information about him available, although it is known that he was born on July 20, 1978, in the Soviet city of Sverdlovsk (now Ykaterinberg, Russia). He's pretty small for a center, at 5'10"/170 lbs, although he effectively uses his size to evade defenders and deke goalies. Also because of his size, he's not a very strong body checker so he's usually paired with wingers larger in size than he is. He rarely takes penalties, though he received his first-ever major penalty early in the 2003-04 season (for boarding). A number of goalies (Marty Turco and José Théodore among them) have said he has one of the most wickedly deceptive backhand shots they've seen in recent years, and his reputation as a scorer continues to grow.
While it remains to be seen how time will treat this quiet young Russian, don't be surprised if he becomes a regular attendee at the NHL's annual awards ceremony in years to come.
Pavel really came into form following the 2004 NHL player lockout. In 2005-06, he led the Red Wings in scoring with 87 points, despite missing the last three weeks of the season with a lower body injury, which also kept him out of the first few games of the playoffs. He also played for Team Russia during the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, although the team weren't medalists.
Pavel played for Moscow Dynamo of the Russian Super League during the 2004-05 season, due to the petty labour dispute that was preventing the NHL from operating. He had signed to play for Avangaard Ornsk in 2005-06, though negotiations continued with the Red Wings' management, and on September 19, the two sides agreed on a 2-year, $7.8M contract, keeping Pavel and his amazing talents in the NHL. In April 2007, the Wings re-signed him to a new 7-year contract.
The 2007-08 NHL season has seen the formation of a new Red Wings scoring line, centered by Datsyuk, with Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom on the wings. At the end of the year, after the Red Wings carried away the Stanley Cup, Datsyuk picked up the Lady Byng trophy, his third in the past three seasons, and the Selke Trophy, his first.
Along with Washington's Alexander Ovechkin and Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin, Pavel was nominated for the 2009 Hart Memorial Trophy, which is given to the league's most valuable player. If he wins (he probably won't, going up against the reigning MVP Ovechkin and his great 2008-09 season), he'll be the first Red Wings player to do so since 1963. The same three players were nominated for the Lester B. Pearson Award.
It appears as though Pavel's Lady Byng dominance has come to an end! He was involved in an on-ice fight for the first time in his career during the 2010-11 season opener against Anaheim, when he squared off against Corey Perry in the Wings' 4-0 win. He also picked up a goal and an assist in that game, for a Gordie Howe hat trick (that is, one goal, one assist and one fight).
Datsyuk, age 37 at the time, announced his retirement from the NHL on June 18, 2016, and announced plans to return home to Russia and maybe play a year or two in the Kontinental Hockey League before permanent retirement. Expect his name to come up around the top of the Hall of Fame ballot in 2019.
- 2002 Olympics Ice Hockey Bronze Medal (with Russia)
- December 2003 NHL Offensive Player of the Month
- 2003-04 NHL All-Star
- 2005-06 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy
- 2006-07 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy
- 2007-08 NHL All-Star
- 2007-08 NHL Plus/Minus Leader
- 2007-08 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy
- 2007-08 Frank J. Selke Trophy
- 2008-09 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy
- 2008-09 NHL All-Star
- 2008-09 Frank J. Selke Trophy
- 2009-10 Frank J. Selke Trophy
- 2011-12 NHL All-Star