Pavel Datsyuk: The Planet's Best Hockey Player

Nelson SantosCorrespondent IJune 11, 2009

PITTSBURGH - JUNE 09:  Pavel Datsyuk #13 of the Detroit Red Wings skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins during Game Six of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals at the Mellon Arena on June 9, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Since I joined BR I've read numerous articles and debates about who's the best player in the NHL or in hockey. The players debated in these articles are usually Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and due to his Art Ross trophy-winning season Evgeni Malkin has been thrown into the mix.

As I read these articles I always sat back and thought none of these players are. Let's face it. Most authors who publish these articles are really just arguing on behalf of their favorite player. In all cases the ingredients/criteria in which you would have to judge all players to truly come close to selecting the world's best player are not mentioned or listed. This makes for a great read and certainly generates tons of comments.

I'm here to present my argument for who I believe is hockey's best player.

Pavel Datsyuk.

I'm a big-time Philadelphia Flyers' fan, and my favorite player is Mike Richards. But anytime I've been asked who I believe is the best player in the world, I've had to veer off the ballot as Datsyuk was not listed.

I should do the reader a service by listing my criteria of how I judge players' skills, worth and value.

First off an arena is 200' by 90' and I expect all players to work as tenaciously anywhere on that surface. Datsyuk does that.

Ovechkin, Malkin and Crosby are not nearly as effective in their zone as they are from the other side of the red line.

Hockey is a tough and sometimes vicious game. I expect players to not get going when the going gets tough. This does not mean throwing checks that are borderline charges (a la Ovechkin) or dropping the gloves. This simply means the players' performance does not dip whether the game is an all out war or nearer to the NHL All-Star Game in terms of physicality. Datsyuk does that as well.

All four players possess this attribute. They display it in different ways, however.

Skill is obviously a major factor in this debate and I personally do not believe there is even an argument about who is simply the most skilled player in hockey. Datsyuk gets that check mark as well.

Ovechkin is a pure scorer, Sid has incredible vision, Malkin is the consummate puck carrier. Datysuk has all those qualities and does it with almost embarrassing flair. Just ask Sid who bit hard on a simple head fake and toe dip in game six.

The intangible of winning is always iffy, as all players are in different situations which makes this point somewhat unfair. But being a winner surely helps and Datsyuk has done that with two Stanley Cups thus far. Datsyuk gets the nod.

The other three will assuredly enjoy winning in their careers. This point is a wash when all is said and done. But Pavs has the immediate edge.

Awards are a pretty decent moniker to judge a player by and all four players I've mentioned have won some of the most valuable hardware the NHL has to offer. But only one of them has been nominated for the three trophies that pretty much cement a players' all-round talents.

Only Datsyuk has been nonimated for both the Hart Trophy (League MVP) and the Frank Selke Jr. Trophy (best defensive forward), winning the Frank Selke Jr. Trophy in 2008. We can even throw in the fact that he is a three-time winner of the Lady Byng Trophy (most gentlemanly player award).

I think it's fair to say the other three players in this discussion will not be named the best defensive player in the league anytime soon and probably never will.

When debating who is the best hockey player, you must factor in the different positions played by each player. And that is why I believe the overall umbrella for criteria has to be the player's complete game. Again of the four players mentioned in this argument, only Datsyuk can truly be considered an all-round player.

This past season he was fourth in league scoring with 97 points. Malkin led with 113, followed by Ovechkin and Crosby with 110 and 103, respectively.

One stat over-looked in my opinion is average ice time. Every NHL player will tell you if they get ice time they will produce better numbers. If we research the TOI (Time On Ice) for each of these players we will find that Datsyuk is also fourth on this list and the gap in ice time is quite substantial.

Ovechkin lead all NHL forwards with an average ice time of 23 minutes per game.

Malkin was second in this category with 22:31 minutes per game.

Crosby ranked third in the league with 21:56 minutes per game.

Pavel Datsyuk ranked 46th in the league amongst forwards at 19:12 minutes per game. In fact, teammate Henrik Zetterberg ranked higher at 32nd in the league with an average of 19:52 minutes per game.

Working out the difference between Malkin and Datsyuk in terms of ice time. The difference is total of an additional 12 more games played by Malkin (based on Datsyuk's average ice time). Datsyuk averaged 1.2 points per game this season. Add to that the additional 12 games worth of additional ice time and Datsyuk's season's totals in points would jump from 97 to an estimated 111 in 81 games making him the second leading scorer in the NHL.

Looking at these numbers one can only wonder what Datsyuk's offensive numbers would look like if he could make up the almost four minutes of ice time Ovechkin has on him each game. When you factor in the gap of TOI, the 16-point gap between Malkin and Datysuk is no longer as glaring an advantage in this argument as some would believe.

In the grand scheme of the NHL media coverage the reality is Sid, Ovie and Geno are followed far closer than Pavs. And he seems to get forgotten in these types of discussions. But I would hope that after two straight years of watching the Red Wings prance to the Stanley Cup Finals the hockey world will at least start to include him in these discussion.

I can only suggest anyone who disagrees with my view or is not too familiar with Datsyuk's play need only watch a handful of Red Wings games and pay close attention to his performance and at the very least the thought of him being hockey's greatest player might now could creep in.


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