Allow us all to stop, pause and reflect on the NHL. Reflect on players who continuously fly under the radar but consistently find themselves atop the NHL for points, among other categories. Reflect on their mentality, the way the play the game and their impact not only on their respective teams, but also on the NHL as an organization and NHL fans alike.
Many first overall draft picks have simply not panned out the way the organization that drafted them had planned. For example, the Edmonton Oilers had the first overall pick for three years straight (2010-2012) and selected Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (RNH), and Nail Yakupov respectively. Although Taylor Hall has performed and RNH has done relatively decent, Nail Yakupov has absolutely failed to live up to expectations. It appears as though his poor attitude and disrespect towards any country not named Russia gets in the way of playing hockey and helping an organization build itself. With three straight first overall picks, many may think problems are solved and the talent is there. However, I will not get off topic as this posting does not revolve around the Edmonton Oilers or their draft history.
This posting will revolve instead around a player who has lived up to expectations since he was drafted first overall in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft; Joe Thornton. Originally drafted by the Boston Bruins, “Jumbo” Joe Thornton stands at 6’4 and weighs around 225 pounds, hence the “Jumbo” nickname the NHL world has given him.
Joe Thornton played for the Bruins from 1997 until 2005 where after 23 games played in the 2005-2006 season, he was traded to the San Jose Sharks for Wayne Primeau, Brad Stuart, and Marco Sturm. For the Boston Bruins, Jumbo had played 532 total games and collected 454 points. Around the time of the trade, Joe Thornton was under a lot of scrutiny. He was criticized for not being able to lead a team and was also heavily criticized for not being able to come through in the playoffs. The Bruins coach at the time, Robbie Ftorek received criticism for jumping the gun and giving Jumbo the captaincy too early.
That same year in San Jose, Jumbo put up numbers that were unheard of. He scored 29 goals and led the league in assists with 96 as well as leading the league in points with 125, which won him the Art Ross Trophy. To break it down and divide it between both teams, he had a total of 33 points in 24 games with the Bruins and 92 points with the Sharks in 58 games. That year was such a memorable year for the Sharks organization and their fanbase. The arrival of Joe Thornton ignited the start of many other player’s careers. None more impressive than the one of Jonathan Cheechoo. That same year, Jonathan Cheechoo led the league in goals with 56 in 82 games, winning his first and only Rocket Richard Trophy. Thornton’s reputation as the best passer was no longer in question, it was so blatant and his teammates benefited immensely.
Shark fans were ecstatic, simply amazed at how the season was going and how Shark players continuously put up intimidating numbers. Joe Thornton brought the Canadian passion for hockey to an American city that many did not look twice at. He opened people’s eyes, he and his teammates all put San Jose on the map and officially classified them as massive threats. Those colours of the Sharks uniform, the Pacific Teal, the Orange, the Black and the White began to look like they belonged to him.
Unfortunately, like most years, the Sharks did not make the deep playoff run they were expected to. After defeating the Predators in five games during the opening round, they lost to the Edmonton Oilers in the second round in six games. Once again, Jumbo was hearing the same things he heard in Boston; he cannot lead in the playoffs. Joe Thornton is always a threat – playoffs or not. He gets points in the playoffs. For example, during the 2005-2006 playoffs, as I had just mentioned above, he had 9 points (2G 7A) in 11 games. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. As it currently stands, he has a total of 121 points in 156 playoff games.
Joe has been through many different line mates and he has created superstars out of some of them. The aforementioned Jonathan Cheechoo, Devin Setoguchi and the current captain of the Sharks Joe Pavelski, to name a few. A perennial threat, Joe Thornton can never be pushed aside and ignored.
After all the playoff failures, the disappointing end, the change of the team’s roster, Joe Thornton is and will always remain in the heart of Shark fans and many others. An underrated, overlooked, perennial threat, Jumbo Joe Thornton will not change anything about his game, and why should he? Simply put, he is the best passer the game has ever seen. He may go down in history as a playoff failure and maybe even one of the best players to never win the Stanley Cup, but his game cannot be ignored and to many, he will go down as not only the best passer but also the best teammate.
Although there will always be an argument about his faults, he remains a player like no other.
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