Sharks ink Pavelski

Sophomore center Joe Pavelski announced this afternoon that he has signed an NHL contract with the San Jose Sharks, becoming the second first-line forward to depart early from Badgers' ranks this offseason.

Joe Pavelski made it official this afternoon, announcing during a press conference at Camp Randall Stadium that he has signed a professional contract with the San Jose Sharks, thus foregoing his final two years of eligibility at the University of Wisconsin.

This spring Pavelski played a crucial role in the Badgers run to the program's first national championship in 16 years. He led the team in assists (33) and total points (56) for the second consecutive year and was second on the team in goals with 23. An excellent two-way player, Pavelski earned second-team All-American honors.

As a freshman Pavelski tallied 16 goals, 29 assists and 45 total points to become the first rookie since Dany Heatley to lead UW in scoring.

The Sharks selected Pavelski in the seventh round (No. 205 overall) of the 2003 draft and signed him to a two-year contract this week.

Pavelski's departure means that the Badgers will have to replace their top five scorers from last season. The team's No. 2 scorer, junior Robbie Earl, signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs soon after the NCAA Championship. Forwards Adam Burish and Ryan MacMurchy and defenseman Tom Gilbert were seniors.

Of the 12 forwards who played during the Frozen Four, only six are currently slated to return this season: seniors Andy Brandt, Ross Carlson, Jake Dowell and Andrew Joudrey and sophomores Jack Skille (who reportedly is mulling his options with the Chicago Blackhawks) and Ben Street.

Other returning forwards include junior Matt Ford and sophomore Tom Gorowsky. Six freshmen will also vie for playing time at forward: Zach Bearson, Mike Davies, Aaron Bendickson, Blake Geoffrion, Ben Grotting and John Mitchell.

Transcript of Pavelski press conference

Joe Pavelski: "I'm here today to announce that I'm foregoing my last two seasons of eligibility. I've signed a contract with the San Jose Sharks."

What made you make the decision to go ahead and leave Wisconsin?

"It was a long process. There was a lot of thinking involved. A lot of meetings, talking, looking over all our options. When it came down to it, there are definitely things I still need to get better at. But am I ever going to ready to jump into it, like that? Probably not. There is a big learning process ahead and I'm just looking to get started.

"To leave two years early the contract had to be right and San Jose made a great offer. It is just starting that next step now."

How excited are you right now? Is this like a dream come true?

JP: "Definitely. Growing up, all the days in the backyard, shooting pucks, skating on the rinks. It is something you dream of. And over the last four, five, six years it came so fast and the day is here now. It is just unbelievable."

Joe did you have to convince yourself in your own head that, ‘Yeah, I'm ready to do this.'

JP: "I've gone through it a few times before, leaving high school early to go play juniors, juniors to go play college. Every time you make that step you never know what lies above for you. You are nervous going in there. I was nervous coming into here my first year. But with the guys we get and all the training and preparation. I like to think you're prepared the best you can possibly be to take that next step."

Coach, besides the points on the ice, what are you going to miss most about Joe?

Mike Eaves: "It's two-fold in losing Joe at this point. Obviously we are going to miss our leading point-getter, but probably in my mind, more importantly, and the thing you can't put a price on is what he brings to the locker room.

"One of the things of having a successful organization is the fact that the torch is passed off from class to class and that is how your culture stays in tact. Joe would have been one of those young men who would have carried that torch really high because of who he is as a person.

"One of the things that we told (San Jose Sharks executive vice president and general manager) Doug Wilson is that you are getting a fine hockey player, but you are getting a finer young man. You can't put a price on that leadership. That's what he is going to take out of here and that we're going to miss more than anything."

Joe, how long has this been in the works…. ?

JP: "About a month, month and a half after the season we were approached. And we just went back and forth, back and forth with that. To leave this program, the UW here, after winning a national championship and all the teammates and all the friends we've made here, it had to be right. We had to have the right situation to go into to make that progress ahead… It felt like the time was right and I convinced myself. Whenever you are going to make the next step you have to be convinced 100 percent. And I'm 100 percent right now. I want to go do this. It is something that I've always thought of laying in bed being a kid growing up. This is my dream. So, I mean, full force, 100 percent now."

Joe, what do you think you have to do to get to the top level?... What have the Sharks told you are their plans for you?

JP: "We haven't really talked a whole lot yet. There are a few training camps coming up here in August and September, and then we'll take it from there.

"My strength has always been a big issue. This is one of the first summers I've had where I've been really healthy, been able to do all the lifts, and I've had just a great summer so far. I feel stronger. I feel like I'm getting bigger, stronger, maturing more as a human. And I'm just ready to make that next step."

What have you taken away from your time at Wisconsin?

JP: "Oh, it has been unbelievable. And that just starts with my parents. I'd like to thank my parents. All my friends growing up. I took a little something away from SPASH and then juniors, with Coach (P.K.) O'Handley, Coach (Chris) Tok, I developed there and took a lot away from there. I made some lifelong friends there. I can't thank them enough. They got me to this next step. The first year at the UW: Coach Ward, everybody. Coach Oz, KP. It is just something that I've taken away from everybody. And that first year at Wisconsin to get that much better, to have the success that we had this year. I couldn't have done it without all those people. I can't thank them enough. And then this year with the teammates and the trainers and just everyone that helped me put the best product on the ice I've been able to put out there. They've been awesome."

… When you look at the other… underclassmen that have signed, did that impact you at all? That you felt that you were at their level, if not better, and they're going pro, so maybe this is the right step for me?

JP: "Yeah, it weighs on you a little bit. You are wondering what they're thinking exactly. You've played against them for the last two years so to see them go—and sometimes more, with juniors. We battled against (Ryan) Potulny, (Danny) Irmen, all those guys, for the last four years now. I feel I'm right up in their league. And to see them going, yeah, you think about it a little bit. But that's not the big thing. It's about you, and it's about your decision right now. And I feel it's right."

On impact of winning national title:

JP: "Everywhere I go that's what I want to do. The next goal is Stanley Cup. Everywhere I've been I've been fortunate enough to have great goaltending, great coaching, great players. It is kind of the building blocks to success.

"I came in here, we had a plan. Coming in when I was getting recruited, there was a plan. We're going to hold you out this year, your first year will probably still be a little rebuilding, and that next year the Frozen Four is in Milwaukee. And that's what I was told coming in and I thought about that. It was always in the back of my head. We worked hard to (earn) it, and we accomplished it."

On possibility of spending some time in the minor leagues:

"We've looked at all angles. That's a great possibility. How much time there, is the next question. If you look at all the players, a lot of them have been there before. There are only a few exceptions. We realize that that is down the road possibly, and it is how fast you can make progress forward and get up to the big club."

Coach Eaves, on losing players to the NHL:

ME: "Every situation is a little bit different in its own individuality. And Joe's situation was a little bit different because of where he was drafted. There were a lot of conversations. For Joe to leave you have to look at the earning potential that he has right now and what San Jose was willing to do. Were they really going to step up to the plate and say Joe, we really want you in our organization? They did not at first and then they gradually, when Joe said, ‘Look, if you want me to leave it is going to have to be substantial.' And it became substantial. Then Joe had a real decision to make.

"Right now the earning potential that Joe has and what the team is offering, he may never get again. That's the reason in my mind, and I think in Joe's, and in his family's that now the time is right, and it may never be there again. Very realistic talks about his time in the minors. That might be a thing. But Joe's always met every challenge in his life and this is just another challenge for him. He kind of says that with a half-crooked smile and says 'I've met every challenge and I'm going to meet this one.' Whether it is two months, six months or a whole year in the minors, he is going to grow, he is going to learn and get himself closer to, as he said, to realizing his dream of playing in the National Hockey League and trying to win a Stanley Cup."

What do you do to replace him…?

ME: "Well there is no Joe Pavelski out there. So I asked Billy Ray if he still knew how to skate forward and if he had any eligibility left. He said, ‘Well, I'm a little overweight but I'll see what I can come up with for you.' We're just not going to run out there and take Joe's scholarship. I think that we're going to be very diligent and take our time.

"You take a look at the team that we have. Again, when you talk about a team building it, you take a look at your goaltenders: we know what we have. You take a look at your defense: we are pretty veteran back there. We are going to have to solve some riddles up front.

"Jake Dowell made an astute observation the other day. He says, ‘Coach, we're going to have to win like we did a couple years ago: 2-1, 3-2.'

"We're going to be all right. I would much rather bring in the type of young man that this young man and the other boys that have been here and have left early because of who they are. And, hey, we won a national championship. I'm not going to bring in those type of players because they are going to leave early. That would be silly. I enjoy the experience, as Joe has, and we'll all move forward in life."

On whether it is harder on a program the later a decision is made to sign with a pro team:

ME: "Well, the later it gets, the harder it is to prepare. There is no question about that. I remember we lost Ryan Suter the second day of class. That's probably as bad as it gets. But the later it goes, you don't have as much time to prepare. At least having Joe go now, I have several pages of different line combinations that I can scratch with and look at and talk to the other coaches about. And we'll move forward. But, yeah, the later it gets, the more difficult it is."

Every year college underclassmen leave for the pros. It just seems like there are so many this year. Do you know what that is? Is there a reason behind it in your mind?

ME: "I think financial has a big part to do with it. Talking to the other people with the new players association agreement. I think it's a lot less expensive to sign younger people and start to develop them rather than go after the free-agent market, because of the salary cap now. And right now we're dealing with it for the first time and so the NHL is coming in and grabbing a lot of young kids, to get them in their system, to train them, because they sign them for less now, rather than sign a free agent. The hope—and time will tell us whether or not that levels off or not."

Joe, can you talk about how hard this decision was for you… ?

JP: "There was lots of nights where I laid up in bed, you know, what to do? I had sheets of paper: leave or stay? I threw out all the pros and cons and everything. When you look at where I was drafted and everything I was offered and how I've progressed over the years. It is another step that I want to make. It is something I've always dreamed about.

"I've watched San Jose the last two seasons that there has been hockey. And they've made runs in the playoffs. They have been a playoff team, and they've just been missing a few things. It is something that I get excited about. I want to be there. Whether I spend time in the minors or I'm up there it is going to be a long road, and there's going to be highs and lows. I'm just going to have to battle through it. And to be honest it was a really tough decision. But like I said, I'm 100 percent right now. I want to do it. And I'm going to do whatever it takes."

… Are you concerned that maybe another or two of your current players could leave?

ME: "The possibility is there. I haven't talked to everybody involved in those situations, so that still needs to be done. But the possibility is there."

Joe, you just mentioned that San Jose has some needs. Do you think maybe you can fill those needs in the future?

JP: "Oh yeah. I hope so. They came to me and offered a contract. So they have a plan for me. And I'm just trying to work as hard as I can to be in the best shape possible so hopefully I can fulfill that plan that they have for me and meet their needs."

Teleconference comments from San Jose Sharks executive vice president and general manager Doug Wilson

General comments:

"Obviously we drafted him thinking he was a good hockey player. I think a couple things happened. One, he won a national championship and he comes from a tremendous program at the University of Wisconsin with Mike Eaves and their coaching staff.

"His game is a very mature game. He's got great hockey sense. And I think probably from Joe's point of view, winning the national championship last year probably set up the process of him joining. And we made an offer to him that I think let him know how strongly we felt about him. But the decision was made jointly with Joe, with Mike Eaves part of the process, and ourselves. And I met with the agent, Bill Zito, at the draft, and we expressed our interest. But it has to come from the player thinking it is time and the opportunity is there. We are very pleased to have Joe a part of this organization. He has won at every level that he's ever played at, and coming off the national championship is a pretty good feather in the cap for both Joe and for UW…

"I'm sure that the financial side of it was part of it…. A lot of the credit goes to the player, but also what he accomplished at school. We want people that are winners. We think he's ready to turn pro, otherwise we wouldn't have made the offer that we made."

Do you think he is ready for the NHL, or does he need further development in the AHL?

"Well, first of all, he's a little bit older… He's 22. He didn't start school until he was 20. But all that will be decided on the ice. He'll come to camp and see where his game is at. If he earns a spot, good. If he doesn't, then he'll continue his progress and he'll go from there. I don't, never in any process of negotiation do I tell somebody he's guaranteed a spot. It is you are joining this organization and you're play and your performance will dictate where you are at."

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