With the best players in the NHL lined up for Zdeno Chara's picking at the 2012 all-star game, including fellow Boston Bruins teammates, Chara used the first pick overall to select Detroit Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk.
Chara said of the pick, "He's an unbelievable player. I really admire the way he plays the game and the way he acts on and off the ice. That was my individual goal to get him first, and I was happy that I could do it."
The NHL all-star game is all about putting on a spectacle for the fans, so it's easy to discount the pick and consider it part of the show. However, it did provide some incite into the respect Datsyuk garners from his fellow players, both teammates and opponents.
There is a lot to respect about Datsyuk's game. He has won four Lady Bing trophies awarded for sportsmanship, three Selke trophies as the best defensive forward in the NHL, one Hart Trophy nomination as the most valuable player in the game and two Stanley Cups. He is widely considered to be the best two-way forward today.
Translation: He stops you, he scores, he embarrasses you—and he doesn't take a penalty in the process.
Beyond hardware and accolades, Datsyuk's career compilation of incredible plays and creative goals could stand up to any other player in NHL history.
But what makes him the best player in the game today is the admission by his peers that he is the hardest to stop.
The annual Hockey Night in Canada / NHLPA player poll was released this week, and the results came up Datsyuk.
Datsyuk was named the smartest player, the most difficult player to play against, the hardest player to take the puck from, the most difficult player to stop (voted on by goalies only), the cleanest player and the toughest forward to play against.
According to his peers, Datsyuk is both the toughest forward to play against from the skater's perspective and the hardest to stop from the goalie's perspective. That spells dominance. In fact, Datsyuk won both categories in a landslide, collecting 25 percent and 24 percent of the vote respectively. The second place finishers only managed 15 percent and 12 percent in each category.
Take it from some of Datsyuk's past and present teammates.
"I'll tell you right now that Pavel Datsyuk is the best player I have ever played with," Todd Bertuzzi said after scoring an incredible overtime goal set up by Datsyuk. That's saying a lot seeing as Bertuzzi has played with the likes of Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison in Vancouver, and with many of the NHLs greats on the 2006 Canadian Olympic team.
During Datsyuk's third year in the NHL, linemate Brett Hull called Datsyuk "the most skilled human being I've ever seen and he's just learning the game," prophetically adding, "once he figures it out a little more, he's going to dominate this league like no one else in this era."
Hull was right.
Datsyuk dominates the game like no other player of his time. He doesn't amass goals like Alexander Ovechkin or put up points like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Henrik Sedin or Daniel Sedin. He doesn't overpower you physically. But he does posses the best combination of stopping you and scoring on you, perhaps ever.
Whatever it is that makes him so effective, his peers have already spoken—Datsyuk is the best player in the world today.
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