Datsyuk's personality emerges
Pavel Datsyuk might be the funniest person in the Detroit Red Wings' locker room. It's an intrinsic part of Datsyuk's personality.
Six years ago when Datsyuk came to North America to play hockey, the Datsyuk we know now was beginning to emerge, but still developing.
He wasn't the fourth leading scorer in the NHL. He wasn't one of three finalists for the Selke Trophy as the NHL's top defensive forward. He wasn't on the ice in the final minute of the game. And he wasn't the player tossing out punch lines every day.
Back in 2001, Datsyuk was a 23-year-old far away from home who was trying to establish himself in the world's best hockey league.
"He was a very quiet kid when he first came here," said Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom. "Now he cracks jokes all the time. He's a lot more vocal than he was back then. You saw early on a little bit. every now and then it would come out. But the last few years, it's showing a lot. He's probably a lot more comfortable with the language."
What aided Datsyuk's transition the most was having several Russians in the locker room during the winter of 2001-02. He was constantly around a 40-year-old Igor Larionov. There was Sergei Fedorov and Maxim Kuznetsov.
Datsyuk had people around with whom he could be himself while still figuring out who the North American, English-speaking Pavel Datsyuk would be.
"That helped me a lot," said Datsyuk. "I learned every day, every practice. Lots of players helped, but a big one was Iggy. When I came, I was 23 years old. Now I'm almost 30. I've had a lot more experiences, all kinds. I'm stronger."
"Pavel, you wear the 'A' on your jersey as a team leader. What does that mean to you?"
"A lot. So much that I put an 'A' on all my clothes. I wear an 'A' everywhere."
Datsyuk is in his sixth season in the NHL. He's able to carry on conversations in English without hesitation. He has become one of the biggest stars in the NHL and one of the leaders of the league's most successful franchise of the past 15 years.
Datsyuk's personality has come through as brightly as his on-ice performance.
"When he first got here, he was an unknown," said Kris Draper. "The one thing you realize is that Pav has a great sense of humor. He comes up with some great one-liners. Sometimes we call them two-liners because you have to ask what he said. You don't get it right away. This is the way the Red Wings are. It seems that they find not only good hockey players, but quality people as well. Pav is exactly that. He's a great guy."
"Pavel, you've played before with Ilya Kovalchuk. What tournaments were you in together?"
"World Cup. Olympics. Baltika Cup. You put that in for me. Baltika (maker of a Russian beer). Free promotion for Russian business. Maybe they send me bucks."
Part of Datsyuk's on-ice development was him believing that he had to shoot the puck more often. As a rookie, Datsyuk got just 79 shots on goal in 70 games. This year, he took 264 shots in 82 games.
"We've been on him quite a lot to shoot more," said Lidstrom. "He has been shooting more this year. I think that's paying off for him."
Shots on goal is the first statistic that Datsyuk reads on the official scoresheet after games.
"Everybody told me that I needed to shoot more," said Datsyuk. "They told me I had a good shot, not fast but good. That helped me. Defensemen have to play me for either shooting or passing."
Quick to fire shots on goal. Quick to fire off punch lines.
It's taken a few years, but Detroit fans are finally getting to know Pavel Datsyuk.