Sharks’ Joe Pavelski thriving at age 34

He’s too slow. He doesn’t have a big shot. He’s undersized. He’s too old.

He’s Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, at age 34 an All-Star for the third time in four years, and here to prove he belongs.

Pavelski will be joined by teammates Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson for the NHL skills competition Friday and Saturday’s All-Star Game — a series of three 20-minute 3-on-3 contests between the league’s four divisions — all at SAP Center.

“As he gets older, the game becomes faster. The game has changed toward younger, faster players,” ex-Sharks forward Tony Granato said. “Well, it hasn’t changed for Joe. He continues to contribute and get better even as he gets older.”

How else can one explain 27 goals and 45 points in 52 games this season despite a travel-heavy schedule accented by a revolving door of linemates and frequent flip-flopping between lining up at center and on the wing? Pavelski is on pace to score 43 goals, two more than his career high achieved when he was 29.

None of this surprises Granato, who coaches the men’s team at Pavelski’s alma mater, the University of Wisconsin. Granato has watched Pavelski progress from an amateur into a pro, accompanied Pavelski as an assistant coach during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and has competed against the native of Plover, Wis., while coaching in Pittsburgh and Detroit.

“I don’t know if there’s another player who maximizes what abilities he has to make the most out of what he’s got,” said Granato, who was with the Sharks from 1996 through 2001 and was an All-Star in ’97 when the game was last in San Jose. “What he does for a team to contribute offensively, to be the captain, to be a solid two-way player — who bears down when the game is on the line — shows a mental toughness and internal drive that is as good as anyone I’ve ever seen. And that’s special.”

Eyebrows were raised when — after leading the Badgers to the NCAA title in 2006 as a sophomore — Pavelski jumped to the pros instead of staying at Wisconsin. Only a seventh-round pick by the Sharks in ’03, Pavelski felt the time was right, and after playing only 16 games in the minors, began to prove he belonged in the NHL.

Pavelski’s talents translated nicely into a two-way third-line role. But he had much more to give. Promoted alongside Joe Thornton and asked to provide elite goal-scoring, Pavelski did just that. He and Doug Gilmour are the only seventh-round picks in league history to have at least 10 20-goal seasons.

“He has such a great hockey IQ, he can flip a switch and take on responsibilities of a center or a winger,” Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said. “He can flip a switch and be the best defensive player on the ice in the last minute of a game with the lead. Or he can flip it when we’re down and score a big goal.”

And when he feels like he’s struggling, Pavelski relies on his smarts to contribute.

“That’s something I hang my hat on, being able to think and get around the ice that way,” he said. “For me, that’s something that has to be there. If everything else is getting exposed, I think I lose a trait of my game that I have a lot of belief in and a lot of commitment to.”

Burns and Karlsson, 28, have been as dynamic on San Jose’s blue line as anticipated. Burns, 33, leads the team and all NHL defensemen with 55 points. Karlsson — who is nursing a lower-body injury but will give the non-taxing All-Star Game a go — is fifth among NHL defensemen with 43 points (40 assists).

“Being at home, in front of our own fans, representing the team in the city makes it extra special,” said Burns, who — like Karlsson —will play in his sixth All-Star Game. Burns said he has “been a long time in the league and you don’t get that chance often. (I’m) looking forward to it.”

Ross McKeon is a freelance writer. Twitter: @rossmckeon

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sharks/article/Sharks-Joe-Pavelski-thriving-at-age-34-13559995.php.

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