by Mike Chen on 02/20/09 at 06:22 PM ET
We’re about a year out from the big Vancouver Olympic games and I’m seeing folks like James Mirtle and the Puck Daddy crew making their various picks for the different teams. The more I see of Team USA, though, the more I’m surprised at the lack of love for one Joe Pavelski.
Now you could call me a homer or claim that I’ve got a west-coast bias, but I’m guessing a big part of Pavelski being overlooked is that 1) he’s overshadowed by some dudes name Marleau and Thornton and 2) he plays on the west coast so a lot of people miss out on his games. But his numbers show that he’s effective in all situations, and for those who haven’t seen enough of him, he’s wickedly crafty with the puck.
The great thing about Pavelski is that he thinks the game extremely well and he’s got a great work ethic. That means that if the pucks going into the corner, he’s not afraid to go fight for it, but he’s also shifty enough to often come out with the puck and take an odd-angle shot that surprises the goalie. His stickhandling ability, along with his ability to protect the puck, get overshadowed with some of the talent on the Sharks roster. He’s got a great wrist shot too, and all of that makes him highly effective in one-on-one situations (check out his career shootout percentage).
Some key stats:
-42 points and +8 in 54 games this season
-15 power play points, 3 shorthanded goals
-54.9% on faceoffs
-Averaging more than 3 shots per game
Beyond the stats, though, you’ll find a guy that thrives under pressure, makes clutch plays, and—most importantly—has a strong hockey sense to effectively play a shutdown role at either even strength or the penalty kill while always bringing some offensive threat. He’s one of the leading forwards in blocked shots, and Todd McLellan will play him in any of the most critical situations: down on a 5-on-3 penalty kill, running the point on the power play when Dan Boyle is injured, the extra skater when time is running out and the Sharks are behind.
I see Ryan Kesler getting a bit of attention as Team USA’s shutdown guy, but I gotta think that Pavelski would be a better utility player that can perform second-line scorer duties or a third-line checking role. A quick look at stats shows that Pavelski’s ahead of Kesler; in fact, Pavelski’s ahead of Scott Gomez, Drew Stafford, and David Booth in American-born scorers this season.
I don’t think Pavelski will get top-line time for Team USA, and he doesn’t need to. Zach Parise, Patrick Kane, and Phil Kessel can lead the charge in that area. But for a versatile forward that can win faceoffs, play any position, kill penalties, and score. And for all of the talk of penciling in Kesler (and I’m guessing if Kesler was in San Jose and Pavelski was in Vancouver, the focus would be swapped by the mainstream media) for USA’s top defensive forward, Pavleski can shift to wing if necessary. You’re telling me he wouldn’t make a great third-line shut-down pairing with Kesler or a strong penalty killing duo?
Of course, the short list for the Olympics don’t get announced for a while. If San Jose has a deep playoff run, you can count on Pavelski playing a major role in it, and that should bring him the necessary spotlight to finally get some attention for the national team.
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