You cannot call yourself a San Jose Sharks fan and not be a huge fan of Joe Pavelski.
The Sharks captain has done it all for San Jose. Between playing center away from Joe Thornton, playing with him as winger, playing power play, penalty kill, you name it, he’s done it (outside of playing defense and goaltender anyway).
For hockey fans who are in bed before Sharks games start out here on the West Coast, you are probably only used to hearing Pavelski’s name on a regular basis since the 2011-12 season. That was the first year in which Pavelski broke the 30-goal plateau, scoring 31 goals and 61 points alongside Thornton and Patrick Marleau. But prior to 11-12, Pavelski was already known around these parts as a consistent top-six center. From 2008-09 through 2010-11, Pavelski tallied 59, 51 and 66 points playing mostly second and third line center.
7th Round, 2003
It is no accident that the seventh round pick from 2003 has become captain for both the Sharks and for Team USA. He has become a bonafide super duper star in this league. Beginning with that first 30-goal season playing on Thornton’s wing, Pavelski has averaged a remarkable 34 goals over the past six seasons. While his production has been nothing short of amazing, being drafted in the seventh round means it took Pavelski a longer time to reach the NHL level than most stars. To fans in the East, it is understandable to mistake Pavelski for being younger than he actually is, but being a July 1984 birthday, Pavelski is already 33-years old. He didn’t make his NHL debut until the 2006-07 season when he was already 23.
While Pavelski’s early scoring struggles obviously help the narrative of him slowing down, it’s really only a foot note. Four games with no goals and just a lonely assist doesn’t mean much. After all, the difference between say a 58-point season and a 68-point season is pretty much just one hot stretch of 4-5 games and possibly getting lucky with couple of empty net goals and a few secondary assists. Point totals are sexy, but they truly aren’t a great indicator of production when talking about just a few points different from one player to the next.
As far as Pavelski’s concerned, it is far less about the lack of points early on here, but more so the lack of those open looks. In San Jose’s most recent game against the Islanders, Pavelski pumped five shots on goal and managed to get to the areas needed for those grade-A scoring opportunities. After failing to score on his best opportunity against the Isles, Pavelski smashed his stick in half over the top of the net in frustration.
Clearly Pavelski is frustrated with the team’s slow start (1-3 on a season opening five-game homestand) and was frustrated at not scoring in that particular moment. However, the deeper frustration likely lies in the fact that those types of grade-A opportunities have not been as frequent as they have been in years past. It’s easy to smile at oneself for missing a great opportunity when you know you are bound to get four or five more of those same quality looks later in the game. But when you’re not sure if you are going to get that same opportunity again, that is when it really starts to wear on a player counted on to score goals. While Pavelski was quite noticeable against the Islanders, he was hardly noticeable at all in the first three games of the season, managing just seven shots on goal combined.
The problem for Pavelski is that he’s never been particularly fast and he isn’t a big body on the ice. Therefore, he can ill afford to lose even half a step of the speed he does possess. Thornton and Marleau are both four years older, but it is easy to understand why they have had rare success deep into their thirties. Marleau remains one of the best skaters the game has ever seen and that has allowed him to remain effective despite a drop in overall production. Thornton meanwhile will likely still last a long time further because his big frame and ability to protect pucks like nobody’s business. That frame combined with his insane vision will allow him to continue to be effective as the years go on.
It’s not impossible for a guy like Pavelski to continue to thrive despite his smaller stature and lack of speed. Henrik Zetterberg for example is still thriving in Detroit. But with the league getting younger and faster every year, Pavelski is going to have to put in even more work to try and fight off Father Time