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Joe Thornton Sparks the Maple Leafs Playing “Small Minutes”

Joe Thornton brings a lot of value to the Toronto Maple Leafs – all while playing “small minutes.” What does he bring to the team?

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It wasn’t as if Joe Thornton didn’t make a difference to the team even at the beginning of the season when he hadn’t scored much. Although he was playing on the top line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, he’d only scored two points in five games.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Joe Thornton Is Growing More Jumbo Every Game

Thornton Brings Energy to the Locker Room

Low scoring aside, even his presence in the locker room helped energize the team’s entire leadership team. He’s been known to bring both an outspokenness tempered by a pragmatic engagement about what it means to be a professional hockey player. 

Joe Thornton Maple Leafs
Joe Thornton, Maple Leafs power play

In short, his teammates have loved playing with him. He has his head screwed on straight and he hasn’t missed the great opportunity he’s had to play professional hockey. He’s been known to – even after a tough loss – remind his teammates that it’s always a great day to play hockey.

When Thornton Returned from His Injury, Things Changed

Still, since he’s returned from his broken-ribs injury, he moved from two points in his first five games to nine points in his first nine games. He’s the second-oldest player in the entire NHL right now and he’s on a point-a-game pace – all that playing far fewer minutes than any other point-a-game player in the league.

This past week, Thornton played four games and has recorded seven points (two goals and five assists). He’s on fire, and part of the reason is that he’s part of a threesome that’s really, really on fire. He’s playing and growing great chemistry with Matthews and Marner.

As his top-line center (Matthews) notes about playing with Thornton – his almost twice-as-old senior, ““It’s a blast. He’s a buzzsaw, he never stops.”  

Matthews also noted, “It’s just easy to play with him. As we play more and more games and practice and get more touches with each other, the chemistry seems to get better. We just want to keep that going.”

Thornton’s Game Was Never Based Upon Speed

Thornton’s not as fast as he used to be, but then his game really was never built around speed. Fortunately, winning hockey games is about scoring. And, although speed matters, it also takes skill and a good hockey IQ. Thornton has all those qualities in spades.

Thornton helps his team score because he’s skillful, is strong enough to dig out the puck, and has great vision on the ice. During last night’s Maple Leafs victory over the Montreal Canadiens, for example, on a power play all Travis Boyd had to do was keep his stick on the ice and Thornton bounced the puck off Boyd’s stick past Carey Price for a power-play goal. Sometimes it’s just that simple.

Joe Thornton, Toronto Maple Leafs

Incredibly, the 41-year-old veteran takes longer shifts than normal because he knows how to conserve energy. As a result, he’s on track to have his most productive season since 2015-16 when he was a point-a-game player with 82 points in 82 San Jose Sharks’ games.

Thornton Has Become a Great Value

In the video below, which was made prior to Thornton’s return after his injury, Sportsnet’s Shawn McKenzie and Chris Johnston look at the value Thornton brings to the lineup that will help spark Toronto moving forward.

Thornton Brings Outspoken Leadership

As the video suggests, Thornton brings a great deal of leadership to the dressing room. Johnson noted that, although Thornton has only played five games with the team, he’s already made a pretty strong impact on his team.

As Thornton noted, however, for the team to go further it has to play tighter defensively. He specifically noted that the team “hasn’t done a good job of looking after their goalie Freddy (Andersen).” 

Related: Maple Leafs Have Eyes on Specific Target In Trade Market

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