The Vegas Golden Knights’ Peter DeBoer is a huge Joe Thornton fan. How big a fan? Simply stated, DeBoer says that Jumbo Joe Thornton is his favorite player that he’s ever coached in his NHL coaching career. By the way, he also believes Thornton is one of the best players he’s ever coached. (from “Can Joe Thornton still carry a tune? Ex-coach Peter DeBoer thinks so, Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun, 14/12/20).
Simmons’ Toronto Sun article gives a bit of the background of DeBoer’s relationship with Thornton. Specifically, DeBoer has coached Thornton during five of Thornton’s past 12 NHL seasons. DeBoer, who has coached over 300 NHL players, did not hesitate to note that – of all the players he’s coached – for him, Thornton ranks #1 both as an NHL player and as a hockey person.
DeBoer Had No Hesitation Calling Thornton His Favorite Player
Without hesitation, DeBoer said: “He was the most enjoyable player to be around on a daily basis I have ever had.” DeBoer added about Thornton, “He’s a great pro with great positive energy.”
DeBoer noted that Thornton carried with him what he called “great messaging,” noting that “He (Thornton) has an old-school style, where’s he’s not afraid to call guys out, young players or old players, on what expectations are of a professional.”
Thornton’s “such an interesting guy” who, DeBoer believed, might have learned tough lessons early because he played his rookie year for Pat Burns and later played for “Iron” Mike Keenan.
As DeBoer noted, Thornton “grew up playing for tough coaches. He’s lived through just about everything in his career and has no problem pushing people to play or act at a certain level. He’ll speak up no matter what the circumstance is.”
DeBoer admits that he hasn’t “been around many people who love the game and the life, the way he loves the game. He loves everything about the NHL — the traveling, the road trips, the workouts, the practices — that passion is contagious.”
The Big Question Now Is: Can Thornton Still Play and Contribute?
Thornton’s positive energy is one thing, but the questions that Maple Leafs fans really want to know include: First, can Thornton still contribute? Second, how much can he add to the team’s success? Third, where does Thornton fit in the Maple Leafs lineup?
Question One: Can Thornton Still Contribute?
To answer the first question, DeBoer notes that, “Joe, even now … makes his wingers better. He gets opportunities for them that others can’t.” In fact, DeBoer believes Thornton can help wherever he’s inserted into the line-up. He notes that the Maple Leafs could stick Thornton with “two fourth line wingers and he was going to make them really good players.”
DeBoer thinks that Thornton’s “got game left.”
Question Two: How Much Can Thornton Add to the Team’s Success?
To answer the second question, when DeBoer first coached Thornton with the Sharks, Jumbo played more than 20 minutes every game, much like Auston Matthews does with the Maple Leafs these days. Thornton was expected to carry a big load. By last season, which was DeBoer’s last with the Sharks, Thornton played about 15 minutes a game (about 13 even-strength minutes).
With the Maple Leafs, it would be surprising if Thornton was called upon to play that often. Assuming Matthews would play about 20 minutes each game, and John Tavares played about 18 minutes per game, and then Thornton played 13 minutes each game, that would leave less than 10 minutes for the fourth-line center. The bottom line is that no one really expects Thornton to play 15 minutes each game.
Question Three: Where Does Thornton Fit into the Maple Leafs Lineup?
The answer to the third question is that Thornton would probably play on the third line. And, in that capacity, given Thornton’s unique offensive skills, it reshapes the third line away from a checking or defensive line. With Thornton in tow, the Maple Leafs have a different offensive look.
Given what I’ve read about DeBoer’s appreciation for Thornton, I’m certain he’d tell Maple Leafs fans to count their lucky stars that Jumbo will be in the Blue and White. I for one am looking forward to it.
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