It is exceptionally rare for an athlete to come along and become something of a human highlight reel in any sport. I’m talking about the ability to make people say, “Wow!” Yet, for 14 seasons, the NHL was treated to such a talent. His name was Pavel Datsyuk, and he played for the Detroit Red Wings.
Datsyuk’s blend of on-ice intelligence and creativity paved the way for goals, passes and dangles like this generation of fans had never seen before. His skill on a nearly nightly basis earned him the nickname “The Magic Man” throughout the league. With a name like that, you know the personal highlight reel is going to be FILLED with mind-blowing stuff.
Related: Steve Yzerman, The Captain
Which plays take the cake? In a career that yielded the Russian forward two Stanley Cups, three Selke Trophies as the league’s top defensive-forward and four Lady Byng Trophies as the league’s most gentlemanly player, where do you start? How do you condense a career of magic into a five-point list?
5. Datsyuk Welcomes Couture to the NHL
You start with a skillful move that shows just how much control Datsyuk had with the puck. You see, players of all ages practice stick-handling. Every skater wants to be able to make that forehand-backhand deke that fools a goalie or creates space in the offensive zone. However, few can actually pull it off under NHL-level pressure.
After he was embarrassed by Datsyuk, Logan Couture went on to become a top-six offensive catalyst for the San Jose Sharks. He was named team captain in the fall of 2019. This is a perfect example of what Datsyuk could do to literally anyone, regardless of their skill level.
Datsyuk made moves like this on a semi-regular basis. He knew how to use his hands to create space. While this play didn’t lead to a goal, there were plenty that did.
Forechecking Leads to Offense
The first of a few appearances by the Nashville Predators on this list, this moment perfectly captures how Datsyuk was a threat even without the puck. He could take the puck off of anyone’s stick at almost any given time, and once he had it on his stick, the offense was usually quick to follow.
Poor Dan Ellis. Here he thought he could trust his defender to move the puck out as he circled around the back of the net. Then, with a simple stick check, Ellis finds himself one-on-one with the best dangler of his generation. The result is no surprise.
Playing against Datsyuk became a game of keep-away. He couldn’t hurt you if you simply kept the puck away from him. Of course, that was easier said than done.
As the Predators found out after their re-brand, Datsyuk was dangerous even if he had the puck in the defensive zone. He may not have had game-breaking speed like Connor McDavid, but he could still break the game open with his stick-handling.
Datsyuk was a one-man army on this play, as he powered his way through five Predators and pushed the puck past goalie Pekka Rinne. It’s hard to maintain momentum in a game. It’s even harder when you’re facing a player who can shift the momentum like it’s the puck on his stick.
Datsyuk’s ability to change the complexion of a game on any given shift is what made him so dangerous. Whatever the situation, he had the ability to impose his will on the game.
2. Just A Flick of the Wrist
Though the modern conference alignment has put a damper on it, the Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks’ rivalry is well-known in the NHL. Fans of both teams like to see the opposition embarrassed, especially if their team has a say in the matter. That being said, a 2010 shootout produced a highlight reel move that even Blackhawk fans had to salute.
The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup that season, so they’ll be forgiven if they’ve buried this memory under more pleasant ones. For the Red Wings, this moment captures a time when shootouts were highly-anticipated. Datsyuk almost always tried to do something showstopping when it was his turn to go, and in this instance, he delivered.
The effortlessness of this play is ridiculous. It takes serious skill to sell this move, and yet Datsyuk makes it look easy. He always did.
Sure, Datsyuk is known for his dirty dangles, but his ability to set up scoring chances was underrated. There were times when it seemed he had eyes in the back of his head. Couple that with Henrik Zetterberg’s ability to finish a play and you get a moment like this:
Furthermore, Datsyuk wasn’t a “soft European” player. He handled the physicality thrown at him on a nightly basis with finesse. On the rarest of occasions, he’d give it back.
Datsyuk had a hand in all areas of the game which made him worth the price of admission. He could bring fans out of their seats, and he could make jaws drop to the floor.
1. Datsyuk Pulls the Shoestring
I’m going to cheat here because this is two highlights, but the move is similar. One play was in a shootout against, who else, the Predators. The other was in-game versus the Dallas Stars and poor Marty Turco.
This move is usually reserved for the All-Star Game when the stakes are painfully low. Instead, Datsyuk treated fans to plays like this when two points were on the line. When fans think of him, this move will always come to mind.
This list shows how impressive Datsyuk was and these are only SOME of his highlights. You could argue that the NHL hasn’t had a talent like him since he decided to retire from the league in 2016.
Is your favorite Datsyuk moment missing from this list? If so, let us know in the comments section below! When it comes to highlights of the Magic Man, there are no wrong answers.