OTTAWA -- Pavel Datsyuk is not the sort of elite athlete to shun a White House visit with his teammates because of his politics, nor would he opt out of the NHL all-star weekend if he disagreed with a three-game suspension.
Instead, the Detroit Red Wings' talented centre is known for his on-ice exploits and has become one of the most respected by his peers. That's why Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara made Datsyuk the first pick
in the fantasy draft on Thursday. Chara has long admired Datysuk's quiet and efficient ways and believes Datsyuk has been one of the most difficult opponents to go up against.
Many felt that Chara would take goalie Tim Thomas with the first pick, but Chara asked his Bruins teammate beforehand if they would be offended if he snatched Datsyuk first.
"I was fine with it," said Thomas, the reigning the Conn Smythe Trophy winner. "He's a great player."
That has been the consensus for some time now in the NHL. Datsyuk does not possess the determination of a healthy Sidney Crosby, nor the goal-scoring touch of a Steven Stamkos, nor the physical game of an Alex Ovechkin, but Datsyuk is considered the best two-way player in the game.
"He's a great competitor and a guy who always plays hard," Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla said. "He's extremely skilled. He's not dirty, yet he's a fierce competitor.
"He's one of the hardest guys to knock off the puck or knock off his skates. You wouldn't know it when you see him in the dressing room. But he's strong, and with all that skill, that combination makes him one of the best players."
Another attribute his fellow all-stars admire is Datsyuk's ability to steal the puck and his eye-hand coordination to knock down passes. When current Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa, also considered one of the game's best two-way players, was a teammate of Datsyuk's in Detroit, the two would often play a must-see game of keep away against one another.
"He's just one of those players who is special, especially he is sick defensively," Hossa said. "I think he's the best in the world at stealing the puck. To watch him is fun. Sometimes when you have the puck and he steals it from you, you just have to laugh because of how easy he made it look."
The 33-year-old Datsyuk is a four-time Lady Byng Trophy winner, three-time Selke Trophy recipient and a two-time Stanley Cup champion. But he still remains hungry.
His Red Wings sit first overall in the standings and he entered the all-star break third in the NHL scoring race.
"Am I playing some of my best hockey? I hope not," Datsyuk said. "I think I'm playing somewhere in the middle. I hope to have more energy in my game. I have another level as I get older and get more experience. I can be better and I will."
Iginla remarked that one of the reasons Datsyuk is so popular among the other players around the league is because he is so humble.
His modest ways stem from his early days playing in Russia. Datsyuk was considered too light at 145 pounds, but he caught the eye of Red Wings scout Hakan Andersson, who was watching defenceman Dmitri Kalinin in a game in Russia.
The Buffalo Sabres wound up taking Kalinin with the 18th overall selection in the 1998 NHL entry draft. The Red Wings waited until the sixth round (171st overall) to grab Datysuk.
He made an immediate impact for the Red Wings and won a Stanley Cup in his first NHL season in 2001-02.
A decade later, Datysuk still has the fire to be among the game's elite.
"When you win one Cup or any awards you get so hungry you want to win every year," he said. "But when you miss a year not winning you get more hungry. You want to do better. You think it's yours and you try to get it back again."
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