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The Best Passer in the Game

by San Jose Sharks Staff / San Jose Sharks
When Joe Thornton has the puck and Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley are skating on each side, it is almost unfair to the opposing goalie. The NHL’s best passer along with two of the league’s top snipers make for what many consider the NHL’s top line.

However, what makes it truly special is the man in the middle. Marleau and Heatley are going to score with whoever is passing them the puck, but Thornton’s unique assist ability is beyond the simple passer.

Traditional thought would say Thornton would be much more adept at passing to his right as a left handed shot. That theory worked out very well for Thornton in the early stages of his career as he helped Glenn Murray score a career high 44 goals and he prodded Jonathan Cheechoo to a league best 56 goals. They were both right wingers.

Last year Marleau played alongside Thornton’s left side and the sharp shooter set a career high with 38 tallies. What was different was Marleau did his damage playing to Thornton’s backhand. Now Marleau and Heatley are both fighting for the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s top scorer and that is because Thornton’s comfort level is to find the open guy, not the man who sits on his favorite site.

There are some unbelievably talented playmakers in the NHL, but what might set Thornton apart is his ability to dish with equal efficiency with his forehand or his backhand.

“I like to pass with the backhand or the forehand,” said Thornton.

“Jumbo just figures it out and he’s not locked to one side,” said Heatley. “It’s a trait you don’t find in a lot of centers.”

While there is a lot of natural ability with the Jumbo, even the greats have to work hard at their trade.

“I had to work hard over the years putting in the time at practice,” said Thornton of his ability to spread the puck to each wing.

One thing Thornton has to keep in mind as great distributor is that when using the backhand, the curve can’t be too great to accommodate the forehand or the backhander will be too difficult to deliver.

“I think the last five or six years my blade has been the same,” said Thornton about finding the right niche to be the league best passer.

The ability for Sharks players to roam the ice, within the system of course, also allows for Marleau and Heatley to be in different spots, altering where Thornton is passing to and from.

“We get the puck in a lot of different situations,” said Marleau. “With our line, we're all over the ice at every position. I could be on the right side, Joe could be on the left and Heater could be the center.”

Marleau noted the passes may be just as accurate wherever the big guy is passing it from, but it’s just the type of shot that is varied from the right and left side.

“On the right it is more of a one-timer and on the left it is more of a redirect,” said Marleau.

In the end, Thornton will find the open man anywhere on the ice.

“He might be the best passer in the game and he is comfortable in any situation,” said Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan. “You presume he will find the whole anywhere. He’s fine either way.”

Friday’s practice had a bit of a different flavor with regards to the lines, although McLellan noted it may not be that way come Saturday’s game. Manny Malhotra skated with Joe Pavelski and Ryane Clowe and Devin Setoguchi was alongside Scott Nichol and Jed Ortmeyer.

“We shuffled the deck and we’ll see what happens,” said McLellan. “We’re not really happy with the production of the second line.”

The Pavelski line has not put up a tally in the calendar year. McLellan acknowledged the effort had been there, but nothing was showing up on the scoreboard.

“Ultimately results count and they have not been able to find the net,” said McLellan.

San Jose will host Edmonton Saturday in a rare afternoon game at 1 p.m. and tickets can be found at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at The game will be on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and
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