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Pavelski emerging as top-line star for Sharks

by Dave Lozo
Joe Pavelski can't skate and doesn't have the size to compete in the National Hockey League.

During the 2003 NHL Draft, that was what 29 teams likely believed about the 5-foot-11, 195-pound forward who was playing his junior hockey with the Waterloo Blackhawks in the USHL. Pavelski wasn't selected until the seventh round (No. 205) by the San Jose Sharks and Doug Wilson, who had taken the job as general manager about a month prior.

Eight years later, there probably isn't a team in the League that wouldn't want Pavelski on its roster.

Joe Pavelski
Center - SJS
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 11
SOG: 34 | +/-: 5
"I didn't know if I was going to get drafted," Pavelski told "I was slightly on the radar. If it happened, it was going to be late. I didn't hang around. I just did my day. I got home and had this call. It's definitely exciting when it happens, but you knew it was just a draft pick and there were no guarantees behind it."

Wilson admitted he had no idea Pavelski would turn out to be the player he is today -- "To be honest, we wouldn't have waited until the seventh round," he says now -- and heaped the praise for the pick on his scouting staff.

Pavelski said he didn't have too much contact with the Sharks or any other team before he was selected, but remembers scout Pat Funk was someone who was "in his corner."

Wilson got to watch Pavelski when he was at the University of Wisconsin and saw a lot of the attributes in him then that everyone is seeing today.

"When we went up and watched him at Wisconsin, every time we watched him play, he was making something happen at both ends of the ice," Wilson told "He was out on the ice for all the key situations. When you watch him, you could just see his hockey sense. He wasn't a physically dominant guy or a great skater, but he went to the right places and was always on the puck.

"The greatest compliment we can give a player is he's a hockey rat. He loves the game. He's just a player you can put in any situation."

Pavelski said he knew his skating was a problem, and it's something he continues to work on to this day. He got his initial taste of the NHL in 2006 when he attended his first Sharks training camp. It was quite the eye opener for him.


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"I remember going into the corner with Kyle McLaren in my first drill and this guy is 6-5 but it feels like he's 6-10," Pavelski said. "It was totally a different atmosphere with the strength, and you learn to adapt and position yourself a little bit better and learn how to survive."

For a seventh-round pick, Pavelski's ascension to the NHL was a rather quick one. He spent a total of 16 games with Worcester of the AHL early in the 2006-07 season and hasn't been back since. Wilson said that just like in the USHL and at Wisconsin, it was impossible to watch a game and not see Pavelski as the smartest player on the ice.

"It's what you do with the time down there," Wilson said of Pavelski's six-week stay in the minors. "There's a lot of guys who can put up numbers down in the AHL, but you have to be trusted by the coaching staff to play in all three zones. When you have a very strong hockey mind, you can play the game at a faster pace, you can think the game at a faster pace and that's big for playing in the NHL. You have to have that aptitude to be able to do that."

In his previous four seasons in the NHL, Pavelski has averaged 22 goals and 32 assists while playing mostly on the third line. This season, the 27-year-old is playing on the Sharks' top line, with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, and has 7 goals and 4 assists in nine games. Pavelski has found immediate chemistry with two of the most talented players -- and better skaters -- in the League thanks largely to his ability to blend with the stars.

Perhaps even more importantly, Pavelski has found a way to mimic the game's great players.

Wilson and almost anyone around the Sharks will speak at great length about Pavelski's intelligence and "high hockey IQ." That usually infers a player is always in the right place and thinks the game faster than his opponents, and sometimes his teammates. But Pavelski also has done his homework on what other players are doing well and has incorporated it into his game.

"You always see guys and what they're doing and you try to emulate them and what they do," Pavelski said. "One of the cool things is just watching Jumbo (Thornton) take pucks off the wall. You don't see him do it a whole lot, but when he gets the puck behind the net he has guys on him and he's fending off somebody while the puck is coming pretty hot around the boards and he just picks it and he makes a play right after.

"Guys like Peter Forsberg, puck-possession type guys … Pavel Datsyuk. They can protect the puck and skate all over the ice with it."

"That goes back to the hockey-rat thing," Wilson said. "You're admiring things of other people that you want to add to your game. That is something that is very common among the best players in our League."

Pavelski's development was one of the reasons Wilson felt comfortable trading Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi in the offseason. Coach Todd McLellan said those moves, which brought back defenseman Brent Burns and forward Martin Havlat from Minnesota, allowed him to slot Pavelski on the first line and take him off the point during the power play.

While Heatley shrunk during the playoffs with the Sharks -- he had just 5 goals in 32 games over two postseasons -- Pavelski consistently rose to the occasion. In 33 games over the past two postseasons, Pavelski has 14 goals and 13 assists.

"We think he's a winner. He's the type of player you win with," Wilson said. "Some guys put up numbers and don't necessarily deliver what you need at crunch time, be it blocking a shot, scoring a key goal, winning a faceoff, taking a hit. Pav would be important to us even if he wasn't scoring a lot of goals. He contributes in other ways and that's what makes him so valuable."

"You had to wonder if he could transition to the NHL. Some of it was size, some of it was speed. He certainly has met or gone well beyond the expectations we had for him, but we think his best hockey is still ahead of him. He's going to continue to grow and be a dominant player in this League."

Not too bad for someone considered the 205th-best player in his draft class eight years ago.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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