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The Third Russian
MICHAEL FARBER
April 13, 2009
Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin may be the MVP favorites this season, but countryman Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings is the best all-around forward in the NHL
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April 13, 2009

The Third Russian

Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin may be the MVP favorites this season, but countryman Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings is the best all-around forward in the NHL

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"I trust my eyes to Dr. Rahmani. You should too."
—PAVEL DATSYUK, in a TV commercial for a Detroit-area vision correction business

THE SKATING part took no time to nail. That nifty stickhandling segment, five minutes tops. But his ready-for-my-close-up 10 words on behalf of the Rahmani Eye Institute (branches in Brownstown, Novi and Rochester Hills to serve you!) had more do-overs than a schoolyard kickball game. "I still have problems in English, but I like challenge," the Red Wings' Pavel Datsyuk, a Russian, says of a language that he treats with the same respectful distance that NHL defensemen give him. He figures he needed between 30 minutes and an hour to spit out the two sentences that have turned him into a cult figure in Detroit the way two Stanley Cups, three consecutive Lady Byng Trophies for gentlemanly play, a Selke Award as the league's best defensive forward, a plus-minus award and one Hart Trophy--caliber season never did.

People around town wave to Datsyuk and shout the lines from the 30-second commercial that is a staple on the Red Wings' regional telecasts. Detroit captain Nick Lidstrom says his eight- and five-year-old sons stomp around the house mimicking Datsyuk (and here imagine a big Swede speaking English in a husky baritone with an accent borrowed from Ivan Drago): "You should too."

"I understood him, but some of my friends here in the dressing room didn't," says Henrik Zetterberg, Datsyuk's frequent linemate. "So I had to translate, English into English." Defenseman Brett Lebda says he was so tickled the first time he saw the spot, he actually burst out laughing before hitting rewind on his DVR to watch it again. "I don't know if you're supposed to say this," Lebda says, "but I don't think Pav wears glasses."

Under gentle questioning, Datsyuk concedes he does not, in fact, wear glasses.

Have you had LASIK surgery?

"Why you ask me this?"

Has Dr. Rahmani even examined your....

"I hope you're not from KGB."

Datsyuk delivers the line with a lopsided grin. There is something inherently droll about this 30-year-old hockey imp: Maybe it is the hand-in-the-cookie-jar smile that illuminates a face shaped like an isosceles triangle that narrows to a point at his chin, or perhaps it is his third-grader's haircut, bangs and all. Teammates insist Datsyuk is among the funniest players in the game, even without subtitles. Just like his dazzling puck skills, his wit is best expressed in epigrammatic bursts. Like this:

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