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Pavelski to play 1,000th NHL game when Stars face Panthers

Forward credits former Sharks teammates, coaches for helping him reach milestone

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

Joe Pavelski said there is no mystery in reaching 1,000 regular-season games in the NHL, which will happen when the Dallas Stars play the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center on Friday (7 p.m. ET; FS-F, FS-SW, NHL.TV).

What's certain, the Stars forward said, is that he's a product of an ideal environment and elite mentors and teammates, having played his first 13 NHL seasons for the San Jose Sharks.

"It's just that I spent a lot of time with a great organization," said Pavelski, who signed a three-year, $21 million contract with the Stars as an unrestricted free agent July 1. "There were just a lot of good players in that organization. You learn a lot from a lot of people along the way and at the end of the day, you never set out to play 1,000. You set out to be consistent and try to play every night.

"I had some great leaders there that showed the way, (Joe) Thornton, (Patrick) Marleau, those types of guys who said, 'We're here to play games and to win games, to play hard, work to get a little better and have a little fun along the way.'"

The 35-year-old has 776 points (362 goals, 414 assists) in 999 games, including 15 (seven goals, eight assists) in 36 games for Dallas. In San Jose, where Pavelski was captain in his last four seasons there (2015-19), he had 761 points (355 goals, 406 assists) in 963 games, helping the Sharks reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 12 of those 13 seasons.

In 2015-16, Pavelski led all NHL players with 14 goals in the playoffs, helping the Sharks to their only appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. He's had 10 seasons with at least 50 points and 10 with at least 20 goals.

It's a considerable list of accomplishments for a player who was selected by San Jose in the seventh round (No. 205) of the 2003 NHL Draft.

"You could see he was the type of guy who would do whatever it took to help his team win, but also for him to get better," said Marleau, who played on a line with Pavelski in Pavelski's first NHL game, a home game against the Los Angeles Kings on Nov. 22, 2006. "He was always striving to get better and that was great to see."

Video: NJD@DAL: Pavelski doubles lead on rebound

Pavelski's memory of Game No. 1 remains vivid more than 13 years later.

He was a first-year pro playing for the Sharks' American Hockey League affiliate in Worcester, Massachusetts after two seasons at the University of Wisconsin. The day before Thanksgiving, he received a call at about 3 a.m. that he was needed in San Jose that night because of an injury to Sharks forward Milan Michalek.

He rushed to the arena to collect his equipment and then took a bus to Boston's Logan Airport, where he boarded a flight to San Francisco. From there, he took an hour-long cab ride to San Jose in time for a late lunch and quick nap. When arrived to what was then known as HP Pavilion, he pulled on jersey No. 53 and took Michalek's place on a line with Marleau and Steve Bernier.

Pavelski scored his first NHL goal against Kings goalie Mathieu Garon at 9:41 of the third period in a 6-3 win by the Sharks.

He scored four goals in his first five games, and never played another AHL game.

"I felt like I made a lot of plays, was really alert, (wondering) do you belong here, can you play here, how fast is this game?" Pavelski said. "It's a huge step for sure from the American Hockey League to the NHL for sure but at the same time, you're never that far away, looking back, if you stick your nose down and work and learn.

"For me, one of my strengths has always been thinking the game and seeing the game and being able to read plays, keep my mind working through situations. I think that's one of the reasons I was able to get off to a good start, playing with some good players."

Marleau said just like that, Pavelski was prepared.

"I remember just how professional he was right from the start, how he approached the game, how he was always trying to get better," Marleau said. "From the way he carried himself, and then has slowly evolved to being more vocal and doing more things on the ice."

Pavelski has carried that approach to Dallas, where he's not only a veteran player, but a teacher for some of the younger members of the Stars.

"We had a practice the other day, and before practice he grabbed two or three of the kids he's playing with, had the iPad out, I think he was showing them (Colorado Avalanche center) Nathan MacKinnon, and how he enters the zone and he was showing them why he's so good at it," Stars general manager Jim Nill said. "It's just those little things. And then a great calming influence. When we had the 1-7-1 start, the wheels were coming off. He was disappointed in how he was playing, he was disappointed in how the team was playing, but he just helps to calm things down."

Video: WPG@DAL: Pavelski pots quick shot for overtime winner

Not only did Pavelski learn how to be a leader from his Sharks teammates, he also said his coaches in San Jose are a big reason for his success.

"There was something I could learn from everybody, from Ron Wilson, Todd McLellan and (assistant) Jay Woodcroft and that staff, and the last four years with Pete (DeBoer) and (assistant Steve) Spott and those guys," Pavelski said. "It was a joy and a pleasure to play. What a privilege to come to the rink and try to get better and play an awesome game and make a good living out of it."

McLellan, now the coach of the Kings, coached the Sharks and Pavelski for seven seasons (2008-15).

"Every coach has favorites and he's one of my most favorite players to spend time around for a lot of different reasons, the person, the way he maximizes what he has as a player," McLellan said. "He's not the most gifted skater or anything else but he maximizes everything he's been given. He works on his game. He studies the game. He makes people around him better. He does it the right way (with) leadership qualities.

"To think he's going to play 1,000 games in the League, when he was coming out of junior or college, well, there was always a chance for him to do that but to play that long? The way the game has changed with speed? It's a remarkable accomplishment and I'm really proud and happy for him."

Staff writer Tracey Myers and independent correspondent Ross McKeon contributed to this story

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