“Very confident and direct pitch,” Avalanche Director of Pro Scouting Brian Willsie said of Pavel.
After talking with him for a few minutes on Monday after Day 1 of development camp, it’s easy to understand why he stood out.
After our conversation, he wasn’t sure if his English came across the way he had hoped, but it absolutely had. This is player who knows who he is, knows what he’s good at, and is keenly aware of what will help him achieve his ultimate goal of playing in the NHL.
And in just a few minutes, I was sold.
The 22 year old center told me he came to North America as a 16 year old (and speaks better English than me, quite frankly). Just two years later, he was the Captain of the Fargo Force of the USHL.
The Avalanche signed him at the end of March in their attempt to corner the market on every undrafted free agent in the NCAA. His former Captain, Wyatt Aamodt sold him on the organization, but I’m not sure he needed much selling.
“It’s a beautiful, beautiful state,” Pavel told me. “And the organization has a history of success. I mean, look at all the teams that are under the head of the Kroenke family. Almost every one of them has won a title in the last 5 years.”
Pavel played just six games with the Colorado Eagles, but four of them were in the postseason. And in those games, he was not sheltered one bit. That transition from college to the pros wasn’t as hard you would think, but where he came from played a big role in that.
“I think it was actually quite smooth,” Pavel said of the transition. “The Eagles have great personnel on the staff that made the transition quite easy. Of course, the hockey styles are a little bit different, but I think everyone in Mankato, and I think Ryan Sandelin (another player at camp) would agree with me, is very well prepared for pro hockey.”
And when he got to the Eagles, he was used similarly to how the Mavericks used him at the NCAA level. The AHL staff did not hesitate to throw him onto the ice for big face-offs (58% combined in NCAA and AHL) or to kill penalties. If you watched his film room, you’ll know that’s where he thrives.
He wouldn’t want it any other way.
“It’s a big responsibility, and I feel that I play better with responsibility,” he said. “You have to earn that privilege to be on the penalty kill, or to be on face-offs. I remember one of the first games (with the Eagles), I actually got to be in the 6-on-5 situation on the face-off, and those are the situations I want to be in. I definitely don’t take it lightly and I’m very proud when I get into those situations.”
But face-offs in the AHL should be a little harder, right? After all, you’re taking them against professionals, many of which have figured out how to “cheat” at that level to get ahead.
“So, I know this is kind of weird, but I actually felt it was easier,” Pavel said. “I believe that some of the guys that I played against were coming from Major Junior, and they were actually a bit weaker than the 25 year olds that were just lifting in College. That could just be my opinion. I take great pride in winning face-offs and I was glad that I could help transition that to the pro level.”
Sometimes, just getting a taste a pro hockey gives you an idea of what you need to improve to take that next step. For Pavel, it was important for him to focus on something that was a huge advantage for him at Mankato. And a quick peek at his competition told him it was necessary.
“I tried to get heavier a little bit,” Pavel said “I came and I saw the roster and almost everyone is over 200 (pounds). I was considered to be a bigger guy in College, and I was a little bit average in pro hockey, so I definitely tried to get stronger because I didn’t want to lose that edge. That’s a big strength of my game.”
That’s something that stood out to me talking to Pavel. He’s very aware of who he is and why he got signed to an entry-level contract by the Avalanche. Some players know what their bread and butter is and stick with it. It worked for Logan O’Connor, and maybe it can work for Pavel, whose NCAA numbers were similar.
That’s not to say he doesn’t have talent. You don’t get this far without skill, but in the bottom six, coaches love players that can be trusted in very specific roles. That’s what Pavel can do.
But it’s not just an understanding of who he is that makes him so impressive. It’s an understanding of how the game is played at the next level. You can’t just overpower everyone, because the game has simply changed over the last decade.
“I have an ongoing quest in getting better and getting faster, getting quicker, because the game is incredibly fast, and even more in the NHL, so I just want to get to that level.”
Footspeed will be his biggest hurdle to overcome, but it’s not impossible. In watching him, he does everything the right way. He reads the play incredibly well, he’s rarely out of position, and he battles. Some young players get transitioned to wing once they turn pro, but I don’t think that happens here. He looks, and plays, like a center.
Things can change quickly, but right now, the Avalanche don’t have a true 4C on the roster. And as Avalanche fans know all too well, injuries will happen. Pavel can see his goal right in front of him, and nothing will stop him from reaching it.
“I want to come here, I want to develop myself so that one day, I can be a big part of the NHL team.”