SAN JOSE – It was discussed ad nauseum down the stretch last season, when Joe Pavelski’s shift to third line center resulted in a much needed boost to the Sharks’ offense.
Still, it bears repeating one more time. After he was part of a group of Sharks forwards struggling mightily to produce consistent offense, Pavelski recorded nine goals and five assists in the final 18 games after Todd McLellan made the move, thereby balancing out the team’s attack. Pavelski went on to lead the Sharks in playoff scoring with 12 points.
Through the first five days of training camp, and to the surprise of no one, Pavelski is back in that third line center role. If that’s the way the Sharks begin the season, it would be difficult (if not impossible) to find a better third line NHL center than the 29-year-old Wisconsin native.
But, Todd McLellan cautioned getting too far ahead, as the Sharks’ season opener isn’t for another two-and-a-half weeks.
“That would be a great plan, when we lay it out on paper. If we could be [Couture, Joe Thornton and Pavelski] deep down the middle, we feel quite comfortable,” said the head coach.
“With injuries, opposition, ebbs and flows during the year, I think you’ll see Pav wander around from time to time. [Tyler] Kennedy was brought in because he has the ability to play center, as well. When we look at third line center, it could be Kennedy, Pavelski, or other guys that compete for jobs throughout the camp.”
McLellan has already mentioned that he’d like to keep Thornton and Brent Burns together on one line, and Couture and Patrick Marleau as a pair on another. Those two pairs have been inseparable in practices and scrimmages so far, while the remaining top nine wingers have been auditioned in different places.
Kennedy and Tomas Hertl have skated at times on the left wing of Thornton and Burns, while Raffi Torres has been on either the Couture line or the Pavelski line. Tommy Wingels has generally remained on the right side of Pavelski, and Anthony Stewart saw a couple of shifts with Pavelski and Wingels during the first scrimmage.
In the first preseason game on Monday, Pavelski was set to skate between Hertl and Wingels, while the top two lines remained at home in the Bay Area.
Pavelski seems to think he’s going to start the regular season in the middle of that third line, and didn’t seem too concerned about who is on his right and/or his left.
“Whoever you get, you play,” he said. “Things change throughout the year, and that’s what it looks like we’re going to start with.”
Regardless of where he skates during even-strength play, Pavelski, who signed a six-year, $30 million contract extension over the summer, will get his ice time. The competitive five-foot-11, 190-pounder will remain as a key part of the power play, where he was on the productive top unit last season. He was second among forwards in time-on-ice per game (behind only Patrick Marleau), and led all Sharks forwards in shorthanded ice time in 2013.