By Curtis Pashelka/San Jose Mercury News
There were times growing up together in Plover, Wis., when Scott Pavelski would get the better of his older brother on the golf course.
Though rare it was, Joe Pavelski was never happy about it, and made sure it didn’t happen too often.
“Oh yeah, there’d be some hard feelings, until he beat you the next time,” said Scott, who is four years younger than Joe.
Joe, 31, has always strived to do better the next time. And it’s showing up in his game this season. As the Sharks’ forward and team captain gets set to play in his first NHL All-Star Game this weekend in Nashville, Tenn., he is on pace to eclipse his career highs of 41 goals and 79 points he had in 2013-14. After 48 games this season, he has 25 goals and 49 points.
“It’s not just the talent,” Sharks teammate Joel Ward said, “but he works hard at it, at his craft, which is pretty cool to see.”
Of all this weekend’s All-Stars — including teammate Brent Burns — few carved the same path to the NHL as Pavelski, arguably the biggest draft day steal in the 25-year history of the Sharks organization.
Perhaps thought to be a tad small or a step slow by most teams, Pavelski fell to the seventh round of the June 2003 Entry Draft. But his competitive zeal, which extends to golf, baseball and hunting and fishing — not to mention a knack for scoring timely goals — has led to a standout NHL career that’s lasted nine-plus seasons.
In 691 NHL games, Pavelski has 253 goals and 534 regular-season points, a total only exceeded by seven other players from that 2003 draft class.
“It’s his persistence, and he’s getting better all the time,” said Nashville general manager David Poile, who served as GM of the 2014 US Men’s Olympic Hockey team. “He was a little bit of an underdog. Not a high draft pick, not the biggest guy. You can pick apart and have things to say why he wasn’t going to make it. But a lot of us would like a do-over again with that draft.”
Pavelski wasn’t expecting to be drafted in the first place, and didn’t find out that he was taken by the Sharks until he got back to his parent’s house and received a phone call.
But Sharks scout Pat Funk tracked Pavelski throughout that draft year and pushed the organization to take the 5-foot-11 forward, adding to a San Jose draft class that included Milan Michalek and Matt Carle.
Before he was drafted, Pavelski had won a state championship with Stevens Point Area Senior High in 2002 and scored 36 goals in 60 games for the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL.
“I was excited,” Pavelski said about being a late-round draft choice. “Seventh round, I knew it was going to be a long road. I wasn’t worried about that. I was worried about being a junior (with Waterloo) at the time and going to the University of Wisconsin.”
After he was drafted, Pavelski led Waterloo to a surprise USHL Championship.
The Black Hawks barely qualified for the postseason, but over three playoff rounds, Pavelski had 12 points in 12 games. Two years later as a sophomore at Wisconsin, he had 53 points in 41 games and helped the Badgers win the NCAA championship.
P.K. O’Handley, who has been Waterloo’s coach since 2002, uses Pavelski as an example to all of the players he’s coached that you don’t necessarily have to be the biggest or the fastest athlete to be successful.
“He’s been a winner wherever he’s been,” O’Handley said of his program’s most famous alum.
O’Handley knows the Pavelski family and is well aware of Joe’s distaste for losing, a character trait that doesn’t go away when the hockey season ends and he returns home each summer to his native Wisconsin.
“He doesn’t mind taking a few dollars off you on the golf course,” O’Handley said.
In his first season as the Sharks’ captain, Pavelski is having perhaps his best season.
Last Saturday against Minnesota, Pavelski scored on a fluttering wrist shot with 1:24 left in the third period to lift the Sharks to a 4-3 win. It was his NHL best eighth game-winner of the season and gave San Jose its seventh victory in eight games.
“You don’t realise how impressive it is when you’re going through it,” Logan Couture said after the game. “I’m sure one day we’ll sit back and look back at everything he’s done, and kind of realize how impressive it is.”
Pavelski has been the perfect choice to be captain, not only because of competitiveness and his production, but also the way he conducts himself off the ice.
Tommy Wingels, a sixth-round pick by the Sharks, figured that out about Pavelski several years ago when he was debating whether to leave Miami of Ohio early to start his professional career. As he was on spring break, Wingels called Pavelski, who left Wisconsin after his sophomore season.
“For him to take the time and share his experience, and his knowledge of the pro game and what to expect, it meant a lot to me,” said Wingels, who has the same agent as Pavelski. “To see him evolve, he’s a guy who guys talk about age and guys declining, and he’s getting better every year.”
Pavelski said he’ll make sure to enjoy the weekend, as he’ll be joined by several family members, including younger brother Scott.
“It’s going to be an awesome trip,” Pavelski said. “It’s the first one and you’re excited to be in that type of atmosphere. Nashville’s a fun town and I’m sure they’re going to do a great job.”
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