His name was Joe Pavelski.
His humble beginnings should be remembered as he represents the Sharks on home ice in the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game at SAP Center on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS), because they helped make him who he is: one of the best players in his draft class and San Jose history, someone still striving for new heights at age 34.
“There’s nothing ever guaranteed, so you just work,” Pavelski said. “For me, it was probably better it was late round.”
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Among the 292 players selected in the 2003 draft, Pavelski ranks 13th in games played (938), sixth in goals (343), eighth in assists (394) and sixth in points (737).
In Sharks history, he ranks third in games played behind Patrick Marleau (1,493) and Joe Thornton (1,002). He’s second in goals to Marleau (508); third in assists behind Thornton (758) and Marleau (574); and third in points behind Marleau (1,082) and Thornton (996).
This season, he has 40 points (26 goals, 14 assists) in 50 games. His goals lead the Sharks, rank 13th in the League and put him on pace for 43, which would be an NHL career high.
“He might not be the biggest, he might not be the fastest, but he is getting it done as he has for years, just with his unique skill set,” general manager Doug Wilson said. “And he’s a tremendous leader.”
It goes back to the beginning.
As a seventh-round pick, Pavelski needed more time to develop. He went back to Waterloo in 2003-04. When he went to the University of Wisconsin in 2004-05, he didn’t plan to stay for only two seasons, but he started to bloom. He turned pro in 2006-07, playing 16 games for Worcester of the American Hockey League and 46 for the Sharks.
“It was just playing the game, taking it one level at a time, and next thing you know, you’re knocking on the door,” Pavelski said. “You’re just really enjoying the game. Like, I really enjoyed my time in the American League. It wasn’t long. But when I was down there, the practice time, extra ice time just to work on your shot, just knowing that that’s all you had to do today for your job … it was pretty cool.”
It was the foundation of the work ethic he has carried through 13 seasons with the Sharks.
To this day, he and defenseman Brent Burns are among the first on the ice whenever the Sharks practice. They dump a bag of pucks on the ice. Burns takes shot after shot from the point; Pavelski tips puck after puck in front of the net. Burns whips passes across the ice; Pavelski hones his one-timer.
While Thornton still sets the work-hard, have-fun culture in the locker room, Pavelski, who succeeded him as captain in 2015-16, leads in his own way, relating to everyone from the scrappy role players to the high-end skill guys.
“He’s the perfect professional, I think, the way he works, the way his attitude is,” Burns said. “You learn a lot from guys like that.”
Video: TBL@SJS: Burns sets up Pavelski for pretty goal
Pavelski’s goal totals declined the previous three seasons from 38 to 29 to 22. At least some of that was due to injuries. He had hand surgery prior to training camp last season and played through discomfort, then sustained a broken finger. He had 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in his first 23 games, 54 points (18 goals, 36 assists) in his last 59.
“I can remember last year, even when he started to get healthy, he’d have ones for him that are slam dunks, and he’d just miss,” coach Peter DeBoer said.
This season, his shooting percentage is 20.8 percent, which is above his NHL career high (18.2) and well above his NHL career average (12.3). That indicates his goal-scoring pace is probably unsustainable.
Then again, he’s healthy.
“Feel like I’m moving really well, as good as I’ve moved in a long time,” Pavelski said. “Hands feel good. They don’t ache.”
That has led to a virtuous cycle of confidence, better shots and more production. In a 4-2 win against the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 12, he kicked a bouncing puck to his stick blade in the left circle and whipped a wrist shot into the upper right corner, all in stride. Could he have executed that early last season?
“Probably not,” Pavelski said. “I think just mentally I’m in a better spot too because of the health and because I can do certain things out there. I’m playing the game a little bit quicker. There’s certain areas where I’m getting it and not even necessarily looking at the net, just going off feel and shooting pucks. A lot of them have been going right under the bar and in the corner. Not passing up those chances, looking for something better, and I think that’s important for me.”
Video: OTT@SJS: Pavelski roofs wrister to open scoring
This All-Star Game will be special. It’s the third in four years for a seventh-round pick in his 30s, and it is at home, the only home he has ever known in the NHL. He can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. It’s tricky, because the Sharks have to project how long he can keep defying the odds as he ages while trying to sign another pending UFA: star defenseman Erik Karlsson. But Pavelski’s goal is to finish his career in San Jose.
“Some of those things are out of your control, but when you get to a spot, the longer you can stay with a good team, a good organization, it’s important,” Pavelski said. “I appreciate what the fans and the city of San Jose means to me. I really enjoy going to the Shark Tank every day.”