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The secret's out ... San Jose's Thornton among the best

by Dan Rosen

Sharks' center Joe Thornton, acquired during the 2005-06 season, is in his third year in San Jose, and
has 12 goals and 24 assists in 29 games this season.
Joe Thornton knows he’s one of the premier playmakers in the NHL. He knows he has the most points of any player in the past two-plus seasons. He knows the San Jose Sharks not only need, but rely on his ability to create the impossible.

He just doesn’t know how he does it.

“I don’t know where I got it from,” Thornton told “I don’t really know what my secret is.”

There are clues, Joe.

Maybe you’re the NHL’s version of Peyton Manning because you spent years closely watching idols Adam Oates and Pat Lafontaine dish the biscuit in the NHL?

“I was always a fan,” Thornton said.

Maybe you’re part of the small population that can make that play – you know the one – because of your innate ability to carry the puck deep into the zone, to never turn it over or get lost in the zone?

“I won’t give it away until I have a man open,” Thornton quipped.

Does the fact that you’re 6-foot-4 and weigh 235 pounds have anything to do with it?

“Yeah,” Thornton added. “I have a big frame to fend off some defenders and buy some time as I wait for guys to get open.”

Or, maybe – just a thought here, Joe – is it simply all of the above?

“That’s the sign of the great players,” Sharks GM Doug Wilson said. “Everybody would love to play with him.”

That’s why those who do appreciate it all the more.

“When he’s out there throwing passes you have to be ready at all times because he’ll find you,” Sharks rookie Devin Setoguchi said. “When you think he won’t find you, he’ll put the puck on your stick. My first two goals in the NHL were great passes from behind the net, and it wasn’t very hard for me to put them in the net.”

Thornton won the Hart Trophy in 2006 after wracking up 29 goals and 96 assists in 81 games, including 92 points in 58 games with San Jose after an early season trade from Boston. He had 114 points, including 92 assists, last season.

So far he has 24 assists and 36 points this season, tying him for ninth in the NHL. But there is more to Thornton than the ability to create a goal where no one else sees one. For instance, there is his devotion to his new hometown.

“Really, who thinks of living in California as a Canadian kid? You just don’t,” said Thornton, a native of London, Ont. “Now when I go home to Canada to play a game, I am like, ‘This weather here sucks.’ I used to love it as a kid, but now it’s like, ‘Wow let’s get back to California now.’

“In a day when you can kind of choose where you can play, Northern California is the place for me.”

“They love him,” Wilson added of how the fans feel about Thornton. “We’ve had great athletes out here, the Joe Montanas and Jerry Rices of the world. People out here know greatness when they see it.”

Did you know that Thornton is quite the rink rat?

“Last year we couldn’t keep him off the ice,” Wilson said. “He had injuries and we could not stop him from practicing when he shouldn’t have been practicing.

“I think he’s just coming into the prime of his career.”

“In a day when you can kind of choose where you can play, Northern California is the place for me.” -- Joe Thornton

Hey, did you know that, too?

It’s true, and it easily is the most important element Thornton brings to San Jose.

Thornton, the rink rat with the great playmaking ability who loves Northern California, is only 28 years old. There only are a few players in the League – Vincent Lecavalier, Henrik Zetterberg, Danny Briere – in that late-20s age bracket that can say they’re just now coming into the prime of their careers.

There are even fewer who play the game the way Thornton does.

“It’s amazing to watch him,” Wilson said. “He kills penalties. He plays physical. He plays both ends of the rink. We think we’re just coming into the beginning of the opening of the window here.”

Thornton can see it, too. He said he feels great and he’s comfortable with everything he’s doing on and off the ice.

“I feel the sky is the limit for myself,” Thornton said, “and for this team.”

Since Thornton’s arrival in Silicon Valley, the Sharks haven’t advanced past the Western Conference semifinals. But only eight of the 26 players currently on the Sharks roster have celebrated their 30th birthday.

Setoguchi is only 20. Torrey Mitchell, another contributing rookie, is 22. Matt Carle, a defenseman in his second full season, is just 23.

What’s more, the core of this team – Thornton, Jonathan Cheechoo, Patrick Marleau, Milan Michalek, Setoguchi, Mitchell, Craig Rivet, Carle and Evgeni Nabokov – is locked into contracts for at least two years, and some many more.

Thornton, in fact, extended his stay until at least 2011 by signing a three-year deal in the offseason, when he plans to sign another.

“We think our next five years here should be an exciting time,” Wilson said.

Thornton undoubtedly will be at the center of it all.

Did you know it’s on him to bring the Sharks a Stanley Cup?

He does, all too well.

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