MADISON, Wis. — Last season the Wisconsin Badgers took on a mountain-climb theme en route to their first national championship since 1990. After another big announcement, the team may need to begin digging itself out of an offensive hole heading into next year.
Forward Joe Pavelski announced Friday that he would forgo his final two seasons of eligibility at UW to sign with the San Jose Sharks. A seventh-round draft pick in 2003, the sophomore led the team with 56 points (23 goals, 33 assists) last year.
“It was a long process,” Pavelski said. “To leave two years early, the contract has to be right. San Jose made a great offer and I’m just starting that next step now.”
Pavelski was a second-team All-American after ranking fourth in the WCHA with 39 points and finishing 16th in the country with 1.3 points per game.
He was the only Badger to score a hat trick last year, became the program’s first 50-point scorer since Dany Heatley and became just the ninth player in school history to tally 100 points or more over two seasons.
“Whenever you’re going to take the next step, you have to be convinced 100 percent,” Pavelski said. “I’m 100 percent right now and I want to go do this. Laying in bed as a kid, this was my dream.”
It is uncertain whether Pavelski will join up with the Sharks in the coming months or if he will spend time in the minor leagues, but the 22-year old said he was ready for whatever came his way.
San Jose general manager Doug Wilson said Pavelski will get a chance, as all players do, to make the squad during tryouts.
“His game is a very mature game, he has a great hockey sense,” Wilson said in a conference call Friday. “He’s won at every level he has played at.”
Prior to helping lead the Badgers to their sixth title, Pavelski was named the 2004 USA Hockey Junior Player of the Year after captaining Waterloo to that year’s Clark Cup.
“We want people that are winners,” Wilson said. “We think he’s ready to turn pro, otherwise we wouldn’t have made the offer that we made.”
The specifics of the contract were not revealed other than the fact that it was a “generous” two-year deal.
While Pavelski’s immediate role at the next level and his contract offer remain unclear, the situation continues to become clearer for UW head coach Mike Eaves and his team. The Badgers will now return without any of their top five scorers from its championship season.
Adam Burish, Tom Gilbert and Ryan MacMurchy all used up their final year of eligibility. Junior Robbie Earl announced his signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs just days after the Badgers returned from Milwaukee, and now Pavelski will join his former linemate in the professional ranks.
“There are no Joe Pavelskis out there,” Eaves said. “We’re going to have to solve some riddles up front.”
The team’s leading returning scorer will be senior Ross Carlson, who had 11 goals and 12 assists last season.
Also, it is possible the Badgers could lose other key players if freshman winger Jack Skille (Chicago Blackhawks) or junior goaltender Brian Elliott (Ottawa Senators) were to make the leap.
One thing is for sure, the mountain that Wisconsin will have to summit to repeat next season just got a little steeper.