Joe Pavelski (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
If asked who scored the most goals in 2014, you likely wouldn’t guess Joe Pavelski. But ‘Little Joe’ had 44 tallies over the last calendar year and is proving he has a nose for the net. Pavelski is on pace to post another 40-plus goal season.
The top three goal scorers in 2013-14 were Alex Ovechkin, Corey Perry, and Joe Pavelski. At first glance, it’s easy to say one of these things is not like the other, but Pavelski is proving in 2014-15 that he certainly does belong.
Pavelski, 30, has been an underrated star in for the San Jose Sharks since he broke into the league in 2006-07. The feisty winger has turned a quick release and nose for the net into becoming the Sharks go-to goal-scorer, and he’s on pace to get right back to where he was last season in his breakout year.
After scoring 41 goals in 2013-14, Pavelski was considered by some to be a flash in the pan, his 40-plus goal season a statistical anomaly for a player that was more the 25-to-30-goal type. But with a pair of markers on New Year’s Eve, his 18th and 19th of the 2014-15 season, Pavelski’s march back to 40 goals is well underway.
The simplest way to measure just how quickly Pavelski has risen to become one of the league’s most dangerous offensive threats is to look back at his career numbers. While many players tend to fluctuate up and down, Pavelski’s goal-scoring totals have only gone up, and the increase has been noticeable.
In the past six seasons, in order, Pavelski has finished tied for 60th (25), 47th (25), 97th (20), 20th (31), 35th (16), and third (41) in goals. That third place finish is largely due to the fact 2014 was the year of Pavelski. When it comes to scoring over the past calendar year, no player was hotter than San Jose’s 'Little Joe.' Not only did he tally 41 goals over the 2013-14 campaign, he scored 44 goals over the past calendar year, more than any player in the NHL.
What makes Pavelski so dynamic is his ability to drive play, push the puck up ice, and find soft spots in coverage. He’s also consistently put pucks on goal, and this season is on pace to terrorize goaltenders with what would be a career-high 289 shots. It also doesn’t hurt Pavelski’s cause that his most common linemate at even strength has been Joe Thornton, whose playmaking ability is such he could turn a beer leaguer into a 10-goal NHLer.
But Pavelski’s 2013-14 season was, for the most part, attributed to and written off by a near 16 percent on-ice shooting percentage. This season that number has dropped substantially -- it currently sits a hair over 10 percent -- but Pavelski has been incredible on the power play helping even out the drop. His goal-scoring ability simply won’t go away.
Nine of Pavelski’s 19 goals have come with the extra man, and he’s shooting the lights out on the power play. As of Friday, Pavelski’s PP shooting percentage is over 20 percent. Though that may seem unsustainable, considering the Wisconsin native shot an even 25 percent last season in 271 minutes of ice time on the man advantage, you could consider him a threat like Steven Stamkos and Ovechkin.
Maybe it's playing on the West Coast or that he's overshadowed by teammates such as Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, and Brent Burns. But make no mistake that Pavelski is becoming the real star of the San Jose Sharks. Not bad for a guy who was drafted in the seventh round, 205th overall in 2003.
Pavelski will likely never get the headlines or be given the respect that the league's elite get, however. But you can be sure that’s all right by him, because as long as teams and the league keep underrating him, he’s happy to keep filling the back of the net.