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How Joe Pavelski went from a seventh-round pick to a superstar

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NCAA Mens Hockey - Frozen Four - Semifinals - Wisconsin vs Maine Photo by G. N. Lowrance/Getty Images

Joe Pavelski wasn’t supposed to be a superstar. Hell, he wasn’t supposed to make the NHL. Nobody thought this undersized kid from Wisconsin could hack it in the NHL. He just didn’t have the size and his scoring wasn’t going to translate to the professional game, right?

Here’s what San Jose Mercury News writer Victor Chi wrote about Pavelski after the Sharks drafted him in the seventh round of the 2003 draft:

Center Joe Pavelski, a seventh-round pick, will play another season with Waterloo in the USHL but has committed to the University of Wisconsin for 2004-05.

That’s it. Who could blame him? At the time there wasn’t much more to say. Perhaps Doug Wilson knew then that he had gotten a steal, but the rest of the world certainly didn’t.

Fast forward 13 years and Pavelski entered his first ever Stanley Cup Final as contender for the Conn Smythe. Pavelski went on to score 104 points in 84 games with the Badgers from 2004-06. From there, it was on to the AHL. He didn’t stay there very long. The Sharks called him up after he put up 26 points in 18 games with the Worcester Sharks and he never looked back.

Pavelski set the world on fire in his first dozen games, scoring 10 points and earning the “Little Joe” nickname which has since given way to “The Big Pavelski” and “Captain America.” We were still calling him Little Joe back in the 2010 playoffs, remember?

That postseason run just about ended that nickname. That’s what happens when you score 17 points in 15 playoff games, I guess. That stands as his best postseason in terms of points per game and was really his breakout postseason. He scored just one point in six games the previous season and his nine points in 13 contests the season before paled in comparison.

Pavelski, now 31, seems to have gotten even better with age. Playing with Joe Thornton on a consistent basis has certainly helped, but the above chart shows what we already know: Pavelski has scored at an incredible rate ever since the 2013-14 season. The chart, courtesy of Corsica, shows his goals scored per 60 minutes played on a 50-game rolling average dating back to the 2007-08 season.

What sets Pavelski apart is his phenomenal shooting ability. In his first year with the Badgers he scored 16 goals on 10.9 percent shooting. In his second? He bounced that up to 23 goals with 14.2 percent shooting. League average shooting percentage rests around the 9 percent mark, a number Pavelski has bettered in nearly every season.

Over the past three seasons he’s shot 18.2, 14.2 and 17 percent — the three best marks of his career. Again, playing with Thornton has its advantages but the real secret to Pavelski’s success is his ability on the power play. He takes advantage of the open ice around him, making him an absolute nightmare to defend.

He gets pushed down, gets back up and uses his lightning-quick hands to bury Patrick Marleau’s pass. Classic Pavelski.

Since his first full NHL season (2007-08) Pavelski is fifth in the NHL in regular season power play goals. If you look only at playoff games during that span he moves up to second, just five behind Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin in 20 fewer games.

Pavelski, despite his size (5’ 11” may seem tall to mere mortals, but that’s relatively small for an NHL player) has carved out an amazing career. A combination of his vision, hands and work ethic have turned him into a veritable superstar. That journey from an afterthought taken in the seventh round to one of the best scorers in the NHL is about as American as it gets. We love us an underdog.