By Larry Wigge
He was always told he wasn't fast enough. He wasn't skilled enough. Or he wasn't big enough.
Still, Joe Pavelski won a junior Championship at Waterloo and he won at the University of Wisconsin. The 5-11, 190 pound center from Plover, Wisconsin, was always getting overlooked.
He has always been a winner and is carving a remarkable career with the San Jose Sharks.
"For a guy that isn't an overly large man, he's got a lot of courage to go to the right spots," former San Jose coach Todd McLellan now Edmonton coach said. "I think his sense of timing and his hand-eye-foot coordination are exceptional."
He did it again February 4 in a 3-1 victory over St. Louis, when Pavelski flipped a backhand pass into the offensive zone to Joonas Donskoi and later spotted Joe Thornton with a cross-ice pass in the second period less than four minutes apart in the second period.
"He's a finisher," Thornton explained. "Probably within that 10 to 15 foot range, he just knows what to do with the puck."
The assists put Pavelski's production this season to 25 goals and 26 assists in 50 games. He finished last season with 41 goals, 10 more than his previous best.
"There's certainly no one in the league better at scoring timely goals, finding quiet ice, playing under the radar," Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Said Nashville GM David Poile, "It's his persistence ... and he's getting better all the time. 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 was just barely on the Sharks' radar when they made him a seventh round draft choice, the 205th, in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, arguably the biggest draft-day steal in the 25-year history of the Sharks organization. Today he is part of an offensive nucleus that includes Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture, all top-10 picks.
In that 2003 draft at Nashville, Pavelski was selected in featured several key NHL players chosen within the first two rounds that still play huge roles in the NHL to this day. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf were selected by the Anaheim Ducks. Eric Staal went to the Carolina Hurricanes. Zach Parise to the New Jersey Devils. Players like Patrice Bergeron and Shea Weber fell to the second round.
But no one, except for the Sharks, had Pavelski on their radar. But despite several notable players selected well before him, Pavelski still finds himself well ahead of several players in production. Pavelski has the sixth-most goals at 252 in that draft class and he has the eight-most points with 273.
Pavelski is the very definition of an underdog hitting it big.
But his competitive zeal, which includes golf, baseball and hunting and fishing, has led to a standout NHL career that's lasted nine-plus seasons.
"I started watching the draft that year," Pavelski recalled. "But some friends came by my house ... and we played some baseball.
"It wasn't until I got home that I found out I was drafted by the Sharks."
His first feelings about being drafted were: "I was excited. Seventh round, I knew it was going to be a long road. I wasn't worried about that ..."
Like growing up.
When you talk about the size of the fight in the dog, Little Joe has a heart the size of the Pacific Ocean -- and that makes him man in motion and a man of action every year when the playoff season comes around.
Pavelski, you see, has the knack of winning over everyone eventually.
Big game, big player?
"He's just a hockey rat," Sharks GM Doug Wilson observed. "He's highly competitive, passionate and plays to win. He's in on every play at both ends of the rink, which is exactly what we look for -- players who can be used in all situations.
"It doesn't take long for you to see that he's a leader, a competitor. I remember going to see him at Madison (U. of Wisconsin) for the first time and it was clear to me that he was the heartbeat of that team."
Joe Pavelski learned about hockey by watching his dad, Mike, a wall paperer and painter in Plover play, as well as his older brother, Jerry, who is into home improvement. Mom, Sandy, works the books and runs the office for the company that the Pavelski's all work for.
"I don't know what it is about this game, but I've always loved to practice, loved to shoot pucks and loved to play in our driveway," he said, laughing at the fact that there was this Sharks mini-stick at the house. He didn't know who it belonged to. It was just there.
On his driveway, Joe tried moves like his favorites -- Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull and Steve Yzerman. He played for the Flames when he was really young. Later, it was the Blues, because he was enamored with Brett Hull's one-timer.
"I loved winners," Pavelski laughed. "I liked Detroit, Colorado -- they were always battling, always fun to watch. They would bring it every night, could connect the dots, pass, snap the puck around, score goals and win a championship. That's kind of fun. I grew up liking the Dallas Cowboys. I would jump on the bandwagon, I guess you could say. But there's something about winning that draws me to it."
Still, Pavelski knew that his dream of playing in the NHL was a long, long way off.
"It was always my size and strength," he said of the obstacles he had to overcome to get to this level. "When I got to the USHL, my goal was to get to college and get my education. But I also began to see players I was playing against making their way to the NHL. Same thing at the University of Wisconsin. That's when I began to say to myself, 'He's there. Can I do this?' "
And we all know that this go-forward-and-take-no-prisoners approach that got him to the NHL won't stop because of the pedigree he's established in big games leading up to this year's playoffs.
"I always looked at those game, those tournaments as my Stanley Cup," he said, looking me straight in the eyes.
Serious. Confident without being cocky.
"Before I got here, I had been the go-to guy the last few years," he said. "It's funny but I think the more you play in big games the better you are going to get. Playing in those big-time moments, you take so much away and put it in your back pocket. Being on a winning team, knowing what it takes to win, knowing that nothing comes easy."
Said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves, "He may be one of the best pros I've ever seen because he plays to his strengths, works on his areas of improvement, and he's gotten better each and every year. Those six inches between his ears make up for any deficiency that he may have physically, and even then, he's working on those."
Pavelski added, "When you have to fight the obstacles and perceptions I have over the years, you learn to never give up."
Todd McLellan takes it one step further. "If I was part of some of those playoff office pools and drafts, he would be one of my picks."