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Thornton And Sharks Entering Their Prime

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks

In acquiring Joe Thornton last season, the San Jose Sharks may not have been aware of the hardware that would come along with him -- namely the Art Ross Trophy for the top scorer in the NHL and the Hart Memorial Trophy given to the Most Valuable Player in the NHL.



Thornton led the NHL in scoring with 125 points during the 2005-06 regular season. In doing so, Thornton also led the league with 96 assists, 25 assists more than Jason Spezza of the Ottawa Senators, who finished second.
Ed Mio, Thornton's former player agent and friend -- and who is now developing young prospects for the Phoenix Coyotes -- knows Joe Thornton well.

"Joe is a gentle giant," Mio said. "He is so smooth with his skills that sometimes he looks like he plays the game effortlessly. He has size, smarts, strength, skills and hockey sense. He is a complete package."

Thornton is happy in San Jose, but also enjoyed his years in Boston.

"It was special to be selected by the Boston Bruins, an Original Six team," Thornton said. "There are so many great teams and great players that played there over the years. I got to meet many of them. It is a great hockey city and I loved it there. I have so many great memories there."

As the first overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, Thornton faced a lot of pressure going to an Original Six NHL team. He is big, strong, skilled and extremely tough. In a skill game, Thornton is skilled as they come. In a tough match, he is as rugged as they come. He is what every team wants to find when their selection in the Entry Draft comes around.

"One of the biggest things about Joe is his patience and poise with the puck," Sharks assistant coach Tim Hunter said. "Another is his zest for the game. Even with his skill level, he is always making an effort to make himself better. He is a great leader and is always thinking of his teammates first."

Thornton's addition has made the Sharks a powerful offensive team with four players -- selected in either the 1997 or 1998 drafts -- entering their primes. Thornton, Partick Marleau and Scott Hannan were selected first, second and No. 23 respectively in 1997. A year later, the Sharks picked Jonathan Cheechoo with the No. 29 pick. Their first-round pick in '98, defenseman Brad Stuart, was part of the trade that brought Thornton to San Jose.

How much offense did those four players actually bring to the Sharks last season? Well, let's do the math! The four players combined for 125 goals during the 2005-06 season. As a whole, the Sharks scored 266 goals. So, the four players scored an amount equal to 47 percent of the total goals scored by the entire Sharks team last season!

The uniting of Thornton and Marleau is interesting as they were selected first and second in 1997. Marleau's agent, Don Baizley, recognized the talent of his client. He insisted that in this particular draft, there wasn't a No. 1 and a No. 2 selection, rather these players were No. 1 and No. 1A. San Jose seemed to agree and signed Marleau to the same Entry Level Contract that Boston offered Thornton.

Clearly, Thornton has prospered in the new environment. But Marleau also has benefited from Thornton's presence. Last season, Marleau's goal, assist and point totals were the best of his NHL career. He ended the season with 34 goals, 52 assists and 86 points. This ranked him No. 19 in NHL scoring.

"Patrick Marleau works so hard and does every drill at top speed," Hunter said. "Joe is learning by watching the speed and the conditioning of Marleau. The level of fitness to play in the West has to be even higher than the East because of all the travel."

But, after all the dust had settled, maybe Cheechoo has prospered the most. He exploded from scoring 28 goals in the previous NHL season to 56 goals in 2005-06. He led the NHL in goals scored last year and, as a result, won the Maurice Richard Trophy for the top goal scorer in the NHL.

"I have benefited from playing and practicing with them both (Marleau and Cheechoo)," Thornton said. "We push each other every day and playing and practicing together is making us all better players."
Thornton brings much more than scoring to the Sharks.

Although his personal achievements are tremendous, Thornton is very much a team-orientated player.
"Our goal this upcoming season is to get to the Stanley Cup Final," he said. "Last season, being ahead of Edmonton 2-0, it really hurt losing the series."

Thornton has clearly learned a lot about being a leader in the NHL.

And the Sharks have been a team steadily improving the last 10 seasons. In the 1995-96 regular season, they earned only 47 points and were out of the playoffs. In the following seasons, the Sharks increased their regular season point total by 15, 16, two, seven, five and four points from 1996-97 to 2001-02.

The Sharks have made the playoffs in seven of the last eight seasons. The team scored more goals this past season than any other in the team's history. They have a tremendous fan following and one of the best organizations in the NHL. San Jose's philosophy has been to draft well and keep those draft selections.
Thornton's first impressions of San Jose?

"Well, Californians are so laid back and the San Jose Sharks are such a classy organization. They treat all of the players so well."

To stop the Sharks' offense, it's paramount to stop the four players who were selected in the 1997 and 1998 Entry Drafts. But also remember that Thornton was in San Jose for only 58 of his 81 games played last season, so the 2006-07 San Jose Sharks could be even more potent in offense this season.

And to win the Western Conference, you may well have to come through California with San Jose as one of the big reasons for the trip.

ARMED FORCES NETWORK
The Armed Forced Network will broadcast the Sharks-Vancouver game this Friday to servicemen across the world.

NEXT GAME
The Sharks 7 p.m. contest against Edmonton on Thursday will be carried by FSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.

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