A first overall pick in 1997 by Boston, Thornton’s talents have been on display to the hockey world long before the Bruins selected him. Since then, he’s won a Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player (the only Sharks player ever to do so), captured an Olympic gold medal for his country. More recently, he became the official leader of the Sharks this year when the “C” was stitched on his sweater.
Now Thornton is closing in on 1,000 points and Sharks fans have been fortunate that 543 of his 997 points have come while wearing teal.
Those who work closest with Thornton are excited for their locker room leader.
“What a great achievement it will be for him in his career,” linemate Patrick Marleau
said. “He’s very special. He comes to play every night and that’s what you need in a leader and a player. He always wants the best out of himself and his teammates. He expects it.”
Those who have witnessed Thornton master the game on the ice aren’t surprised that 1,000 points have come so quickly to the 31-year-old.
“Does it surprise me he’s at the 1,000-point mark? Not at all,” Head Coach Todd McLellan said. “I’ve only had the luxury of being around him a few years, but I think he’s got the opportunity to take that a lot further.”
|San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton (19) is congratulated by teammates after his goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Detroit Red Wings in Detroit, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio) |
Thornton’s numbers are so high simply because he has that one attribute shared by all great players – he raises the level of everyone around him. Countless players have reached career highs when they’re on his line.
“I think guys get excited to play with him,” Marleau said. “They know how good he is and that he’ll find you if you’re only open for a second. They know something good will happen and you just have to be ready.”
He simply is smart enough to utilize everyone else’s talents efficiently.
“He’s like a great quarterback. He sees everything going on and when someone’s open, he takes advantage of that,” defenseman Douglas Murray
said. “He’s a natural. Certain guys are natural, certain guys work on getting their game where it is. They work on some special move or they’re one- dimensional. He’s a naturally gifted hockey player and he can beat you in a number of different ways. He definitely has a pass-first mentality, but he can shoot the puck, too. He just plays. I wish I could just do that and not have to think.”
While the passing greatness precludes a lot of other Thornton abilities, his 304 goals is quite a number for a player with as many years left in the game.
“I think he definitely does have a great shot and can fool a lot of goalies because he has been known to pass,” Marleau said.
“He just gets so many points and so many assists that you forget he gets 20 (goals) every year,” Dan Boyle
|San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton (19) looks for a teammate as Detroit Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall (55), of Sweden; center Valtteri Filppula (51), of Finland; and goalie Jimmy Howard look on during the first period of an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) |
Even with the point totals, it’s Thornton’s intangibles that truly make him invaluable to San Jose. There’s a reason he’s the perfect fit to lead the Sharks.
“He’s two things,” McLellan said. “He’s an incredible player, but he’s also a great human being. What people don’t know is how giving this guy is. He’s a good teammate. He does smile all the time because he likes doing what he’s doing and he likes being around his teammates. It reflects in his play. He has a passion for the game. He likes coming to the rink and he likes playing.”
Thornton even enjoys practices, which in turn keeps him continually improving his craft. That drive, combined with the skill, is a valuable commodity.
“He never whines or (complains) about practice at all. He likes being on the ice,” McLellan said. “Throw that together with being 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, having soft hands and a great mind, you’ve got a hell of a player.”
As the consummate team guy, Thornton views his 997 current points as a reflection more on his teammates than his individual skills.
“I think you have to play with good players to become a better player,” Thornton said. “Whether it’s playing with Patty, Sergei Samsonov, Glen Murray or Devin Setoguchi, when you play with good players, you become better.”
|San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton (19) is congratulated by teammates after the San Jose Sharks defeated the New Jersey Devils 5-2 in their NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2011. Thornton scored a hat trick during the game. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma) |
That so many players have had their best individual stats skating alongside him plays into Thornton’s ability to find the individual strengths of each linemate. He will decipher what works for whoever is put alongside him.
“I’m lucky enough of have good chemistry with players and it’s hard to find,” Thornton said. “I’ve been lucky enough to find that chemistry with some pretty good players.”
The pattern of great players having their best years alongside Thornton is the biggest reason why he’s so good and why the points have accrued for him so quickly. Players fight hard to get a spot next to Thornton and may play even harder to stay on his line.
“He’s the focus of teams trying to shut (us) down because he’s the distributor of the puck,” McLellan said. “If he can’t distribute it, then players don’t get the shooting opportunity. He’s so good at separating the puck from his body and keeping it away. The players he’s had the opportunity to play with know where to go and he’s been able to find them. There have been a number of former Bruins and Sharks that have had great years. If you’re lucky enough to be in that position, you’d better take advantage of that.”
While the point total is part of what makes Thornton such a unique talent, it’s not what makes him the player he is. In the end, the numbers are not what drive San Jose’s captain.
“He’ll be the first to tell you, it’s not about points anymore for him,” McLellan said. “He’s got some things he wants to get done in his career and he’s going to keep working hard to do them.”
Hopefully Thornton can achieve the 1,000th point and those other goals this season.THORNTON PLATEAUS
1st NHL Goal – Dec. 3, 1997 at Philadelphia (with Boston)
1st NHL Point – Jan. 25, 1998 at Washington (with Boston)
500th NHL Point – Feb. 12, 2006 at Phoenix (with San Jose)
900th NHL Point – Jan. 4, 2010 vs. Los Angeles (with San Jose)
The Sharks will play hosts to Anaheim Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and tickets can be found at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.ticketmaster.com. The contest will be on CSN California, 98.5/102.1 KFOX and www.sjsharks.com.