This is the third in a series of articles asking fans to vote on the best Sharks player at each position as the club enters its 20th year. Today it’s all about the centers. (Note that players must have spent two years with the Sharks organization and two years in the designated position to be considered. No player was placed in multiple positions.) Owen Nolan ran away with the voting for the right wing spot and Patrick Marleau
was doing the same with the left wing position.
Up the middle there might be even less room for debate, especially with Marleau’s lot being cast with the left wings.JOE THORNTON (383 GP, 116 G, 361 A, 477 PTS, 268 PIM)
Since Thornton arrived in the Bay Area, he has produced numbers that have not only placed him among the top scorers on the league, but he has also changed the dynamic of the franchise. In his first year here, Thornton won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s top performer and is the only Sharks player to capture the award. Being the only player in franchise history to be considered the best in the game for a season is a pretty compelling argument within itself.
Thornton is the only Sharks player to ever reach the 100 point barrier, setting a Sharks single season mark with 114 points in 2006-07. His 477 points, second on the Sharks all-time list, have been amassed in a little under five seasons and he has led the club in scoring each complete season he has donned the teal. Thornton is not only productive, but also durable, playing in 379 consecutive games at one point, a franchise record.
There is no denying the correlation of the Sharks recent run of Pacific Division titles, their Presidents’ Trophy two years ago and their Western Conference Championship last year. Thornton clearly is a driving force from the center position.VINCENT DAMPHOUSSE (385 GP, 92 G, 197 A, 289 PTS, 316 PIM)
The numbers may not say it, but it was during Damphousse’s tenure that the Sharks began moving from playoff hopeful to a legitimate playoff threat. In 2000 when San Jose upset the Presidents’ Trophy winning Blues, Damphousse tied for second on the club in scoring and in 2003 when the Sharks made their first trip to the Western Conference Finals, Damphousse led all Sharks with 14 points.
Damphousse ranks fifth among the Sharks all-time setup men (197) and is among the Sharks all-time Top 10 goal scorers (92) and point producers (289). He twice led the club in helpers. IGOR LARIONOV (97 GP, 23 G, 59 A, 82 PTS, 54 PIM)
Larionov had just two full seasons in San Jose, but his importance can be found in one simple stat from his first season. The Sharks, who were coming off an NHL-record 71 loss season, began their third campaign 0-8-1, tracking even worse than the year before. Then a healthy Larionov stepped in. The club rallied to qualify for the playoffs and pulled of the miraculous upset of Detroit in the first round.
Larionov led the club with 18 playoff points in the two rounds with Detroit and Toronto and everything he did made people wonder “what if he had played his whole career in the NHL?” In the 1995 postseason, Larionov tied for the club lead in points through two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Not surprisingly, when Larionov departed the following year, the Sharks began a two-year playoff drought.JOE PAVELSKI (275 GP, 83 G, 95 A, 178 PTS, 118 PIM)
Quietly, Pavelski, as seems to be his nature, moved onto the Sharks Top 10 all-time scoring list last year. He has back-to-back 25-goal scoring years and seems to be improving his play every season. When the stakes are their highest, Pavelski is showing that is when he is at his best.
He was on the ice when the United States tied Canada and forced overtime in the Olympic gold medal game last winter and in San Jose’s run to the Western Conference Finals, the Wisconsin native was nothing short of spectacular. He posted 17 points in 15 games and made a national name for himself. For Pavelski, it’s not where he ranks now, but where he could rank in five years when the 25th anniversary team is announced.MIKE RICCI (529 GP, 101 G, 162 A, 263 PTS, 355 PIM)
Ricci’s popularity is one thing, but many would be surprised to know he sits eighth all-time in scoring for the franchise. He’s in the Top 10 in goals, assists, points, power play goals and shorthanded goals. While his single season high of 53 points with San Jose may not be a record breaker, his does get credit for consistency and time served as a Sharks player.