While Team USA boasts an impressive roster highlighted by top-flight scorers in Zach Parise, Phil Kessel and Patrick Kane, there’s one player on the squad who could be an under-the-radar MVP when all is said and done. This is a player who can play at an extraordinarily high level at both ends of the ice. He’s a guy who can slot in as either a center or a winger, making him a highly versatile forward. He’s a player who can kill penalties, win faceffs, shut down the opposition, and still score goals in bunches.
His name is Joe Pavelski, a core player for the San Jose Sharks who might end up being Team USA’s secret weapon at this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Drafted in the seventh round of the 2003 Entry Draft, Pavelski has blossomed into one of the NHL‘s best two-way forwards. What he lacks in size and speed he more than makes up for in intelligence and work ethic. Pavelski is enjoying a career year in San Jose with 29 goals and 54 points in 59 games this season. He’s on pace to surpass the career-high 31 goals he potted two years ago, and he’s just 12 points shy of breaking his personal record for points in a season.
Pavelski played in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, putting up three assists in six contests and winning the silver medal with Team USA. He saw limited ice time in a primarily bottom-six role, but in this year’s tournament, the 29-year-old forward will take on a much larger responsibility. Pavelski skated on the top line with Kessel and James vanRiemsdyk at practice yesterday, and early indications are that he’ll see some time on the penalty kill.
While players like Kessel and Kane will be USA’s go-to goal-scorers, Pavelski will be relied on to not only produce offense, but also to win faceoffs and provide strong defensive play. He’s likely to log some of the heaviest minutes on the team as a first-line player and a special teams contributor. Pavelski won’t lead the squad in goals and won’t dazzle spectators with speed and finesse. He will, however, play tough minutes in all situations against the opposition’s best players.
His all-around game, along with his knack for scoring in critical situations, will be a boon for Team USA. They’ll have their work cut out for them as they try to contend for gold against supremely talented Canadian, Russian and Swedish teams in Sochi.