Joe Thornton is the NHL's most prolific passer, having paced the League in assists for the third consecutive season while leading the San Jose Sharks to the Pacific Division title last season.
But Thornton's value to the Sharks is more than just the numbers he puts up. Opponents had to figure out a way to try to shut him down for an average of 21:23 per game last season – more ice time than any other forward who spent all season in the division.
Thornton was especially busy during power plays, averaging 4:51 per game when the Sharks were playing with an extra man. Only eight players saw more power-play time.
Then-coach Ron Wilson was more than willing to double-shift Thornton – he averaged more than 3 minutes than No. 2 center Patrick Marleau (18:13) and his own linemate, Milan Michalek (18:04).
One area in which Thornton rarely saw ice time was on the penalty kill – he averaged just 35 seconds a night when the Sharks were shorthanded. It will be interesting to see if new coach Todd McLellan follows Wilson's strategy, which largely kept his big guns away from penalty-killing.
Thornton may have been the Pacific's busiest forward, but he wasn't the only one consuming major minutes:Brad Richards, Dallas Stars –
The busiest forward on Dallas' roster last season was Brad Richards, who averaged 23:27 in ice time per game.
Richards' workload was cut sharply when he came to the Stars in a deadline-day deal with Tampa Bay. He averaged 24:16 with the Lightning, but saw just 19:14 with the Stars. His production stayed similar, though – he had 52 points in 61 games with the Lightning, 11 in 12 games with the Stars.Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks –
It was no accident Getzlaf got more ice time than any other Anaheim forward. Playing more than 4 minutes a game than he did in 2006-07, Getzlaf made the most of his 19:38 per game. He scored 24 goals and had a career-best 82 points.
His ice time went up to 20:29 in the postseason, and he tied for the team lead with 5 points in 6 games.Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings –
The Kings have an abundance of young forwards, and aren't afraid to play them a bunch.
Kopitar led the Kings in scoring with 77 points, and led the team's forwards with an average of 20:41 of ice time per game. He also led the team's forwards with 4:03 per game on the power play. Don't think new coach Terry Murray will trim those numbers at all.Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes –
The Coyotes' captain led the club in almost every offensive category, so it's not surprising he was tops among Phoenix forwards in ice time as well. Doan played 20:45 per night and saw plenty of time in all situations, including 3:55 on the power play and 1:48 shorthanded.
No other Coyote forward who was with the team for the whole season averaged anywhere near that much ice. But one who might this season is center Olli Jokinen, Phoenix's major offseason acquisition, who came from Florida in June. Jokinen played 19:54 per game for the Panthers, including 3:48 on the power play. He's likely to see at least that much time in Phoenix – though unlike Doan, he doesn't kill penalties, averaging just 7 seconds per game on the penalty kill.
Author: John Kreiser | NHL.com Columnist