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Rambler's Top100

14 2009 . 
Datsyuk stars on ice // Detroit News

Dave Dye. 

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- There's a time in an elite athlete's career when his knowledge, strength, endurance and confidence intersect at their highest levels.

It's when the player reaches peak performance, the prime of his career.

This is the stage Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk, 30, appears to have achieved.

"He's dominating some games," Wings general manager Ken Holland said. "Obviously, the standards are very high for him after what he's done the last couple years, but I think he's taking his game to even another level.

"If you talk about MVP candidates for the first half, Pavel's name has got to be in the discussion."

Datsyuk has 25 points in his last 14 games, including a goal and two assists in a 5-4 overtime loss Monday at Dallas. At that pace, he's likely to break 100 points for the first time in his career.

Datsyuk's recent scoring surge moved him into a tie for fifth place in the league with 50 points in 42 games through Monday.

The Wings play tonight against the Anaheim Ducks.

"He's so confident," teammate Marian Hossa said. "He just seems like he's having fun. He makes unbelievable moves like when (Jaromir) Jagr was younger.

"They're just highlight goals. He's making unbelievable chances for his teammates. It's fun to watch him."

Hidden gem

Datsyuk, born in Russia, was an absolute steal as a sixth-round draft pick (171st selection overall) in 1998.

His career is a great example of a player who continues to develop year after year. He's gone from 35 points as a rookie to 51 to 68 to 87 to last season's career-high 97.

Datsyuk still possesses uncanny playmaking ability, but he's also shooting more than he did earlier in his career, an adjustment he needed to make not only for himself but for the sake of the team.

Nowadays, Datsyuk could fill an entire show with just his highlight clips. Two of them came Monday when he used his crafty stick-handling skills to skate around defenseman Darryl Sydor and set up one goal and then went around another defenseman, Matt Niskanen, to score another.

And who can forget that move he used to win a shootout a couple weeks ago at Minnesota when he faked to his left, dragged the puck back and around the goaltender and put a backhander under the crossbar.

"I don't know all my moves myself," said Datsyuk, who will be making his third All-Star appearance later this month.

For Datsyuk, in his seventh NHL season, the key is finishing those fancy moves. That's the only way to make a play truly spectacular, in his opinion.

Otherwise, "No one remembers because they don't show on TV," Datsyuk said.

Datsyuk, who has 19 goals and 31 assists, is getting plenty of air time these days with that classic inside-out maneuver -- or is it outside-in?

Whichever, it's breathtaking.

"He did it sporadically before, but he's making those plays that take you out of your seat more often now," Holland said. "He has tremendous lateral movement. He starts to go one way and just changes direction. Most people can't change direction that quickly.

"His vision is so good. He's got eyes in the back of his head. And he just has a gift with the puck."

Well-rounded

It's not just this flashy offense, however, that defines Datsyuk. He does it all.

He ranks 11th in plus-minus at plus-18. He's tied for seventh in faceoffs won at 57 percent, another facet he improved significantly since coming to the Red Wings.

And he's as dedicated a two-way player as there is in the NHL, having won the Selke Trophy last season for being the best defensive forward.

"He's as good defensively as any player with his positioning and his ability to steal pucks and bat pucks out of the air," Holland said. "He's got incredible hand-eye coordination."

One of the reasons for Datsyuk's ongoing development is that he's worked so hard in the weight room to become more physical. Holland said Datsyuk "lives in the gym" -- so much so there was concern he pushed himself too much in recent years and would wear down late in seasons.

It appears that's all working to Datsyuk's advantage now.

Earlier in his career, he could get pushed around. Not now.

He always understood how to leverage his body and protect the puck, Holland said, but Datsyuk's 5-foot-11, 197-pound physique has made that ability all the more effective.

"I've gotten stronger," Datsyuk said.

That's all led to more confidence, more swagger. He has a little mischievous grin at times on the ice. He just looks like he's having the time of his life.

And why not? He's in the prime of his career.

Steady rise

Pavel Datsyuk keeps getting better every season:

Year GamesPointsGoalsAssists 2001-02 70 35 11 242002-03 64 51 12 392003-04 75 68 30 382005-06 75 87 28 592006-07 79 87 27 602007-08 82 97 31 662008-09 42 50 19 31

Note: Lockout canceled 2004-05 season

Hart beat

Is Pavel Datsyuk starting to emerge as a possible MVP candidate? Here are some of the top midseason choices:

*Alex Ovechkin, Washington: Turned Capitals into one of the league's top teams.

*Marc Savard, Boston: Leads NHL in plus-minus (plus-29 in 42 games).

*Joe Thornton, San Jose: Leading scorer on team with most points.

*Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh: Great stats, but Penguins are huge disappointment.

*Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh: See Crosby.

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