Now? His new nickname is “Little Joe,” and he’s playing on the top line with the San Jose Sharks alongside superstar centre Joe Thornton. “Everything’s happened so quick,” Pavelski said from San Jose. “I’ve gotten a few scoring chances and I’ve been able to capitalize so far.”
Try seven goals and one assist in 11 games since his recall. Asked what his reaction would have been if told of this output before he got called up, Pavelski laughed.
“I would have said, ‘That’s awesome, but where have all the assists gone?’ Because down in the AHL, all I could get for a while was assists,” he said. “Then I get up here and I’m just scoring goals and guys are like, ‘I thought you were a disher, now you’re a scorer?’ But hey, it’s kind of fun to get the goals.”
He didn’t get a point Thursday night in a 4-2 loss to Los Angeles but logged 20:55 minutes, tops among any Sharks winger, and was out there with the goalie pulled in the late stages as San Jose tried to make it close. He was also once again on the top power-play unit.
“He can play in any situation,” Sharks GM Doug Wilson said this week. “Coaches look at players like this and say, ‘Geez, give me 20 of them.”‘
Pavelski led the Wisconsin Badgers to the NCAA title last season, then had a superb camp with the Sharks in September.
“He had a training camp, in many ways, that arguably he should have made our team out of camp,” said Wilson. “Then we made the decision to send him to Worcester. And in my mind he was the best player that I saw in the American Hockey League, at both ends of the rink.”
He forced San Jose’s hand by putting up 26 points (8-18) in 16 AHL games. When Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo went down with injuries in late November, Pavelski was the obvious call-up. Michalek and Cheechoo have since returned, but Pavelski hasn’t gone back down.
“He’s certainly taken advantage of his chance,” said Wilson. “He’s got one of those hockey minds where he can play with anybody, he can play in any situation. He’s just a great kid. When you meet his mom and dad you can understand why.
“I think he’s going to be a very dominant player in this league for a long time. He’s a hockey player.”
Pavelski says the last four weeks have flown by.
“It has been a blur,” said the 22-year-old native of Stevens Point, Wis. “I guess right now I’m just trying to be in the moment. That’s an easy thing to get out of, to sit back and wonder, ‘What’s going on here.’ But every day has just been just that much better. Just enjoying going to practice, being around the guys, being around some of the best players in the world.
“Just go out, do your job and do what go you here.”
Family and friends back in Wisconsin are pumped beyond belief.
“I’m getting (messages) all the time from the boys back in Wisconsin,” he said. “My parents are really proud, they were out here last week and they had a great time. I guess they’re surprised, too, by how quick everything is happening.
“And everybody’s calling me from back home saying they’ve the NHL package now. Some guys back at school are like, ‘Quit being on SportsCenter, will you? What are you doing?’ Just lots of joking like that, it’s been pretty cool.”
Interview requests, like the one by The Canadian Press, have been flying in from all over the continent.
“Yeah, I’m getting bombarded a bit right now but I guess that’s a good thing,” he said.
For Wilson, it’s just the latest product from a memorable 2003 NHL entry draft that produced winger Michalek (sixth overall), winger Steve Bernier (16th overall), defenceman Matthew Carle (47th overall) and Pavelski – 205th overall. That’s right, he was taken in the seventh round.
“Tim Burke and his staff,” Wilson said, crediting his director of scouting.
In the broader sense, Wilson feels the ’03 draft allowed him to pull the trigger on the Thornton blockbuster.
“Why? Because you move a (Brad) Stuart, a (Marco) Sturm and a (Wayne) Primeau, sure you get a Joe Thornton, but you better have other people that can step in and fill all those roles,” said Wilson. “So in comes Michalek, Bernier and Carle last year. And now Pavelski.”
It’s called depth, which the good organizations get from smart drafting. And it’s how Stanley Cups will be won, more than ever, in the salary cap NHL.