AP Sports Writer Larry Lage wrote a great piece – see below – comparing the development of Chicago’s and Detroit’s young stars.
Quite simply, Chicago had to rush their young players into the NHL, while Detroit had the luxury of slowly nourishing theirs in the minors and on the 3rd and 4th lines, while they were being mentored.
The next blog – KEN HOLLAND EXPLAINS THE NEW ORDER – shows that Detroit no longer has the luxury that they enjoyed in the past.
“Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk had a chance to develop slowly, playing behind and learning from Detroit Red Wings stars such as Steve Yzerman.
It helped me when I got here, right away I played with good players,” Zetterberg said. “They kind of just eased me in.”
The Chicago Blackhawks couldn’t afford to do the same with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, banking on them to contribute when they made their NHL debuts last season as teenagers.
In their second season, it paid off for the proud-again franchise.
Kane and Toews led Chicago to the playoffs for the first time since 2002 – second in 11 seasons – and into the Western Conference finals for the first time since 1995.
“Just to be a part of the resurgence of the franchise the past couple years, it’s been a hell of a ride,” Kane said after arriving in Detroit, the site of Game 1 on Sunday afternoon.
Zetterberg and Datsyuk were late-round picks, drafted 210th and 171st overall respectively, and were groomed to be stars of the future.
Datsyuk was a third-line center under coach Scotty Bowman, now a consultant for the Blackhawks, as a 23-year-old rookie when the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup seven years ago. Zetterberg’s production as a 22-year-old rookie the next season, scoring 22 goals, was simply a bonus.
“You saw the next generation coming in, blooming right in front of you and growing up and turning into great hockey players,” Detroit forward Kris Draper recalled. “These guys turned into dominant, two-way hockey players.”
Kane and Toews were taken first and third overall in the 2007 and 2006 drafts, respectively, and were leaned on right away.
“They’re handling it pretty good,” Draper joked. “With Toews being named captain, it’s a credit to his character. And look at what Kane did with a chance to eliminate a hockey team, he scored three goals against Vancouver.
“In these playoffs, they’ve made huge steps and that’s when you get the label of a great hockey player.”
Datsyuk struggled to find success early in his career in the playoffs, going without a goal in the 2003, ‘04 and ‘06 playoffs leading to Detroit’s early exits, but scored 18 times in the previous two postseasons.
A sensational regular season this year led to him being a finalist for the league’s MVP, top defensive forward and sportsmanship trophies. But the Russian’s jaw-dropping plays are become a distant memory because he hasn’t scored in the past nine games.
“It’s a little bit to worry about,” Datsyuk said. “But we win.”
Zetterberg was the MVP.”