leads the NHL in points. No secret or surprise there. He has amassed 40 points in 31 contests and is pacing for his fourth 100 point campaign. He could also reach his 10th straight 20-plus goal season, something not every one of the NHL’s best goal scorers can claim.
What is truly scary about Thornton’s point total is if you take away his seven goals he would still be tied for eighth in the NHL in points. There is only one other player, Ryan Getzlaf of Anaheim, who is within seven assists of his total.
“He is a great player with great vision,” said Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson. “It’s how he sees the game and his patience. He works hard to make the special plays.”
Thornton clearly has the vision and soft hands necessary to be the NHL’s premier setup man, but it is his size that truly separates him from the competition. Or should it be said it is how he uses his size that separates him from his competition.
For instance, when Thornton outbattles an opponent for a puck behind the goal line while on the power play, he has the strength to maintain possession and shield his man away. Thus, what is a five-on-four advantage becomes a four-on-three advantage in front of the goalie and the netminder can never be sure who Thornton will pick up with his no look passes.
“I think it helps a lot that he is so big and strong,” said Heatley. “There are a lot of great passers in this league, but he can hold opponents off for 20-30 seconds and that is what really separates him.”
San Jose’s big centerman is six-feet-four and 230 pounds and he simply used that size to compliment his hands and feel for the game.
“He understands the play and has a sense of timing, but he uses his size,” said Joe Pavelski
There is a nice balance that goes for players skating with Thornton. Simply put, you have to have talent to even earn the spot, however, once you are there, you can expect big things.
Glen Murray and Jonathan Cheechoo were prime examples of this. Both were known as talented scorers who could light the lamp, but neither had even chalked up 30 goals until uniting on Thornton’s team. Murray peaked with a 44 goal campaign alongside Thornton and Cheechoo had the banner 56 goal season.
Last year, Sharks All-Star Patrick Marleau
set a career high with 38 goals, playing mostly alongside Thornton, and the two have been together for parts of this season as Marleau is tracking for 50 goals.
Heatley could join the crew listed above in setting a new career high. He has twice scored 50 and is once again on track for the same number, but there is no question that a little extra push alongside Thornton could give Heatley a career high as well.
“He always makes people look better,” said Pavelski.
When a talented sniper goes alongside Thornton, it is a win-win situation.
“There is a certain boost to the numbers when playing with Joe,” said Wilson.
A boost Sharks fans have been watching now for an amazing five seasons now.
Hockey players all have their own preferences when it comes to their equipment. Some prefer certain brands while others fight to hold onto the oldest equipment pieces possible.
Heatley stands out for one reason among NHL skaters from the equipment standpoint. He is one of the last of a dying breed who still wears suspenders wish his hockey pants.
“It’s something I’ve always done and it feels comfortable,” said Heatley. “Old school.”