By Stephen Whyno
AP Sports Writer
WASHINGTON — Joe Pavelski isn’t the United States’ oldest player at the World Cup of Hockey, nor does he have the most skill, size, experience or even the best beard.
He just has the “C” on his chest.
Pavelski has only been an NHL captain for one season, but the leader of the San Jose Sharks was given the leadership role for the Americans at the World Cup, which begins Saturday in Toronto. It’s not a distinction he takes lightly even if he’s not quite sure why coaches and players chose him over the likes of 2014 Olympic captain Zach Parise, New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh and others.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for all these guys, and a lot of guys could do the job,” Pavelski said Tuesday. “Our performance last year might’ve helped and the success we had leading (San Jose deep) in the playoffs. Those little things might help.”
Everyone else knows, and the answer is simple. Pavelski plays the game the way the U.S. wants to play it. Committed, gritty hockey, with skill and a straightforward style for coach John Tortorella and his staff.
“There’s not a lot of fluff to him,” Tortorella said. “He just plays. He’s not on the outside (of the rink). He’s skilled. He’s in the blue (crease). He is a complete player, and that’s probably one of the best compliments you can give a guy is the word ‘complete’ and he is that.”
Don’t confuse “complete” with Pavelski making up for a lack of production with intangibles. Few players produce quite like him.
Only Alex Ovechkin has more NHL goals over the past three seasons than Pavelski’s 116. Now 32, Pavelski is perhaps no longer one of the most under appreciated players in hockey. As Tortorella puts it, Pavelski is “not a flashy guy, but he does everything in the game: offensively, defensively. He does everything really well.”
Complete is the kind of word Pavelski wants to hear about himself, because it means he’s doing his job — well, all of his jobs. He will be a top-six center for the U.S., but should also be relied on as a key piece of the power play and the penalty kill.
That’s how he wants it.
“You want to play in all the zones. I like taking faceoffs, I like blocking a shot, forechecking,” Pavelski said. “And at the end of the day, you want to be that guy that’s scoring goals and trying to help your team.”
No player had more ice time or goals in last season’s playoffs than Pavelski, who averaged 20:46 per game and scored 14 times while leading the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final. And being captain in San Jose came with its own challenges as beloved veteran Joe Thornton was demoted to an alternate, but remained a big voice in the locker room.
That experience showcased Pavelski’s leadership, but he’s no stranger to international hockey. He also played for the U.S. at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics.
Former St. Louis Blues captain David Backes called Pavelski “an awesome choice” to fill the captain’s role.
“He’s experienced, calm, level-headed, not afraid to say something when it needs to be said,” Backes said. “He knows his position in the league and on this team and he’s certain of that and you see that confidence in him. … He’s going to be the guy with the ‘C’ on his sweater and lead us on the ice, off the ice with his speech, with his example what he does every single shift. From that, we expect to follow and have great success.”