Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)

September 20, 2006 Wednesday
Metro Edition

Old-school and underappreciated, Pavol Demitra has made little noise over the years while establishing himself as an elite NHL scorer. His new team, the Wild, is happy to have him.

BYLINE: Michael Russo, Staff Writer


LENGTH: 1151 words

A hint of anger still emanates from his eyes. The veins on top of his chrome head begin to pulsate.

Most players look back at draft day with glee. Pavol Demitra does so with disdain.

It was June 26, 1993, at the Colisee in Quebec City, a date when the Wild's new No. 1 center nearly walked out on his NHL career before it even started.

Alexandre Daigle was taken first overall. Chris Pronger, Paul Kariya and Jason Arnott are selected among the top 10. And Demitra?

He was taken 227th overall by Ottawa, who took legendary players Toby Kvalevog and Rick Schuhwerk before and after him.

Yeah, somebody - make that, several somebodies - dropped the ball (or puck) for nine rounds.

"I was sitting there for six hours," said Demitra, who debuted Tuesday night with a goal in the Wild's 3-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings in the exhibition opener. "My [then] agent brings me over across the world because I'm supposed to be drafted in the first or second round. I don't know what happened.

"First round. Second round. Third round. I was like, `What's going on?' I'm watching player after player go up and I'm sitting there like an idiot. After several hours, I was just so mad. So I got up to leave. I'm leaving and somebody from Slovakia runs over and says, `I just heard your name, you got drafted.' I just rolled my eyes. Whatever. That was a bad experience for me."

But in a way, Demitra's quiet entry into the NHL couldn't have been more fitting.

In the past decade, few players have been more underappreciated and underrated than Demitra.

In addition to three 35-plus-goal seasons, he has dished out 50-plus assists twice. He has put together a 93-point season, an 89-point season, a 78-point season. He has topped 20 goals each of the past eight years.

Simply put, all he does is score.

"Pav's quiet with a big heart," said Demitra's former Blues linemate Scott Mellanby, who at age 40 is beginning his 21st season in Atlanta. "He's just a world-class, elite player who's a great person and great teammate.

"He's one of those guys that doesn't lead the league in goals and he doesn't lead the league in assists, but he's in the top-10 in both and he ends up in the top-10 in scoring. He's just a very complete player offensively. He does everything well."

Demitra, never one in search of microphones or headlines, only cares if his coaches and teammates consider him with high regard.

"The guys I play with, they know what kind of player I am," said Demitra, 31. "I know the guys I play with, they totally appreciate what I do."

He made the Senators right away, but he broke his ankle three games into the season. He played parts of three unspectacular seasons in Ottawa before being traded to St. Louis in the worst trade in Senators history - Demitra for ... some guy named Christer Olsson.

Demitra's career took off from there.

"We gave him a chance to play and, immediately, you saw the talent he was," said Colorado Avalanche coach Joel Quenne- ville, Demitra's coach in St. Louis. "He produced at almost a top-10 scorer pace almost consistently from that point forward.

"He's got it all - play selection, a terrific shot, quickness, the way he sees the ice, great anticipation. You can't help but appreciate the timely goals he scores and the big plays he makes. He's got a magic stick."

He likes old equipment

In fact, while hundreds of NHL players use the new composite, one-piece designer sticks, Demitra is one of a handful of players - and the only one on the Wild - who uses a wooden stick.

Most onlookers can't tell because Nike Bauer paints his sticks like a one-piece. Brian Joy, the territory manager for Nike Bauer, says Demitra has used the same customized pattern for a decade. Joy said the company supplies him with 24-36 sticks a month, or double what they'd supply a player who uses graphite.

"I've got no feeling for the puck if I don't play with wood," Demitra said. "I can shoot the puck much harder with a wood stick. It's a great stick."

This is just one facet of Demitra's old-school mentality.

"I'm a simple guy who likes to play with old stuff," he says proudly. "I've used the same shoulder pads for 10 years. I just sew them a lot, but it feels so comfortable. I've used the same stick for 12 years.

"I don't like to change things up. I like to play with one pair of skates, one pair of gloves all year. Trainers love me."

While each game-day morning trainers have 20 or so pairs of skates to sharpen, Demitra's is not one of them. He uses a dull, flat blade and rarely changes the steel.

"I find that most rinks, the ice is so soft, I think it's easier to skate with less sharpened skates," he said. "I have trouble keeping my balance when they're sharpened."

Injuries always a concern

Demitra is anxiously anticipating a productive season, although he knows he must stay healthy. He has played 70 or more games in only four of 12 seasons, missing 136 games because of a variety of injuries/illnesses that include hip, hamstring, tailbone, back and neck spasms, and even chicken pox.

Last year, he was hit with a puck under the visor late in the Olympics. He broke his nose and suffered bleeding in the eye. When he returned late in the season for Los Angeles, he got a concussion in his first game.

"Injuries never seem to be my fault," Demitra said, "like when [Radoslav] Suchy high-sticked me [with a follow-through in 2000 for a serious eye injury]. They're always fluky, where pucks and sticks seem to follow me. What can you do about it?"

In St. Louis, the Keith Tkachuk-Demitra-Mellanby line was one of the league's most prolific. Mellanby said he thinks the Wild can get the same magic if Demitra plays in between Mark Parrish and Gaborik.

"I used to say to Pav, `You don't have to pass the puck all the time. Yeah, you're the best passer on our line, but you have the best shot on our line,'-" Mellanby said, laughing. "Pav's the kind of guy who can play with anybody. Put him with a guy that needs the puck all the time, he'll get them the puck. Put him with a guy that can pass the puck, he's going to finish.

"He can be either and both at the same time. So put him with Gaborik and Parrish, who are finishers, Pav may not get 40 goals. But he'll get 25, with 70 assists."

Oh, is that all?


Age: 31 (Born: Nov. 29, 1974 in Dubnica, Slovakia)

Ht.: 6-foot - Wt.: 206

Position: center/left wing

Drafted: Ottawa (9th rd. 1993)

Accolades: 20-plus goals, eight consecutive years; career-high 57 assists (fourth in NHL) and 93 points (sixth in NHL) in 2002-03; career plus-106; led St. Louis in scoring four times; two-time Olympian; three All-Star Games.

Personal: Married with two children; father, Pavol Sr., was a professional soccer player; sister, Monica, used to be one of the top female players in Slovakia; Demitra is one of a handful of NHLers who still uses a wooden stick and he doesn't sharpen his skates; nicknames include, "Demo," and "Pavs."

Salary: 2 years left at $9 million