When Ray Tufts saw Dallas Stars forward Joe Pavelski walking the halls of the SAP Center in San Jose on April 3, memories rushed back. Tufts has been the head athletic trainer for the Sharks since 1996, seven years before the Sharks drafted Pavelski in the seventh round. He still remembers the chatter that surrounded the unheralded draft pick.
“We’ve had kids that have come and gone through the years and I don’t remember them,” Tufts said. “There was something about him.”
In Pavelski’s first development camp with the Sharks, coaches pulled Tufts aside and told him to keep an eye on Pavelski. It was a rare occurrence, Tufts said, especially for a late-round draft pick who was undersized and not a particularly great skater. On and off the ice, though, Pavelski had a charm about him that permeated its way throughout the organization. That development camp wasn’t a deceptive good first impression from Pavelski; it was the first ray of sunshine preceding a majestic sunrise.
“I saw him the other day and then my wife and I were chatting,” Tufts said. “He just became this Superman for our team.”
Since Pavelski caught people’s attention in his development camp debut, plenty has changed, including his team. After 13 seasons with the Sharks, Pavelski joined the Stars in 2019 and is once again a bright spot for them in the playoffs, even though they trail Calgary 3-2 in this first-round series. Throughout Pavelski’s career, one question has remained: “How?”
The question has taken various forms throughout the years. How would Pavelski crack an NHL roster? How would he be effective enough to stay in the lineup? How would he captain a team that was a factory of leadership before him? How would he adjust to leaving the only franchise he had ever known and finding a new home into his late 30s? How is he now producing career-best numbers at 37 years old?
Pavelski set a new career-high this season with 81 points, finishing as the Stars’ leading scorer for the second consecutive season. It seemed like an impossible feat, especially considering the roster featured three fairly recent 40-goal scorers, including Pavelski’s linemate, Jason Robertson, who had 41 this season.
To those who know Pavelski, his success at an advanced stage is less surprising and more of an extension of what they expect from him.
“I always told him, everybody talks about his speed but he never had a step so you can’t lose one,” Sharks defenseman Brent Burns said with a laugh. “It doesn’t really matter. It’s not like he’s going to get any slower.