The NHL Awards aren't until June, but Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings has already won a significant one in hockey. It was announced today that Pavel Datsyuk is the winner of this year's Kharlamov Trophy — awarded by Sovetsky Sport to the best Russian NHL player, as chosen by his peers.
It was the closest vote in quite some time. Fedor Tyutin of the Columbus Blue Jackets was the last one to cast his vote to ensure that Datsyuk would unseat Alex Ovechkin, who won his fifth Kharlamov Trophy in a row last year.
"The level of play Pavel shows is consistently unbelievably high," Tyutin said. "When you watch what he does on the ice you get a feeling that there is nothing that Pavel can't do."
Alexei Kovalev, who also voted for Datsyuk, said that "he is the most important player for Detroit. When Datsyuk comes back from injuries, the team looks very different."
"Datsyuk is very consistent. You always know that he will never play below his own level. Consistency is the sign of class," added Nikolai Khabibulin.
"I simply like the way he plays," Alexander Semin of the Washington Capitals said, to explain his decision to pick Datsyuk. (Ed. Note: Yes, he actually voted for Datsyuk. Wow.)
Pavel Datsyuk himself was very surprised when our colleague Pavel Lysenkov reached him for comment -- that story is here.
"Of course I am very surprised!" Datsyuk said. "It's prestigious to be selected by your peers. I am very, very surprised. But at the same time I am very happy that I was chosen to pick up this honor. A huge 'thanks' for giving their votes for me."
When told he should personally thank Fedor Tyutin, Datsyuk said: "That just means that I owe him a dinner now."
Datsyuk also spoke briefly about his regular season. "It was a good year. Our team had a very even regular season. We started off really well. And as for me personally, I felt like I was on a roller coaster ride. I had a decent start to the season, and then there was the first injury. I come back, start playing well, and then there was the second injury. But it was a good life experience. It will be interesting to look back at it in the future."
Q. Was there a game this season you remember the most?
DATSYUK: "It just so happened that I missed a lot of time this year. But the very last game of the regular season against the Chicago Blackhawks is the one I really enjoyed. Usually final games of the regular season are all playoff-like, because so many teams still battle for the spot in the top 8, for the seeding. And our game against Chicago was just that — very playoff-like."
There was some talk that the Red Wings weren't really motivated in that game, because you could have picked whether you wanted to play Nashville or Phoenix in the first round.
"Picking opponents was not what we were concerned about. Every game at the end of the regular season gets your team in the mood for the playoffs. You start testing various combinations, try to develop playoff-like chemistry. That's why that game against Chicago in their own building was a good character test for us ahead of the playoffs."
And not only did you score, you had 7 shots on goal. It's just not like you.
"We were getting close to the playoffs and this is the kind of stats I would like to continue to produce in these playoffs. I just hope my accuracy improves. But to score goals, I need to shoot more. I also need to step up more and take more responsibility in the playoffs."
Datsyuk also touched on the first round series against the Winnipeg Phoenix Coyotes, especially mentioning Ilya Bryzgalov, who came in fourth in this year's Kharlamov Trophy voting (Bryzgalov actually voted for himself)
"Phoenix is very good, balanced team. They are very oriented and know what to do. But you cannot talk about the Coyotes without talking about Ilya [Bryzgalov]. It's not for nothing people say that a goalie is half the team. He may be more. He is so durable, he plays great, very consistent. He is definitely one of our biggest problems, but at the same time, he is one of the main aces.
"I already started growing my playoff beard. I thought I'd start early this year. Let's see how big it gets. Time will tell."
Datsyuk also provided his explanation of his coach Mike Babcock's words when Babcock told The Detroit News: "As soon a Pavel gets on the ice, the whole team suddenly has more space and has the puck way more."
"I think he meant that I am really small," Datsyuk explained. "So when I, a small slim person, am on the ice, there is more room for bigger guys. Maybe he said that to cheer me up that I look skinny!"
The Kharlamov Trophy ceremony will be held in July in Moscow.
"Great!" Datsyuk said. "Being in Moscow means I will be able to go to a few theater plays."