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Chances Joe Thornton Can Play Third Line Minutes With Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs are hoping Joe Thornton can be a third line center. Do his first few games with Davos suggest he can pull it off?

We’ve talked at great length about the Toronto Maple Leafs this offseason. That said, much of the conversation surrounds the big four and the salary cap questions that linger as the team employed a new strategy, signing a number of low-cost veterans to aid the top-tier high-end contracts. Among them was Joe Thornton.

Related: Whose Fault Will It Be if Mitch Marner Leaves the Maple Leafs?

Scott Wheeler of The Athletic closely examined the expectations for Thornton coming into the 2020/21 NHL season. He wonders if the center can do what the Leafs are hoping he’ll do, which is be their third-line centre and allow Alex Kerfoot to play a little higher in the lineup on the wing (especially after the departures of Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen).

In an effort to see if there was even the slightest chance that Thornton could play more than a fourth line role on this Maple Leafs team, Wheeler looked at the veteran’s first six games of the season with Davos. There’s good news for Leafs fans based on his production to date.

First, Wheeler points out that Thornton has been a point-per-game player through six games, scoring two goals and four assists in an improved Swiss National League. His HC Davos team has outscored the opposition 5-3 when he’s been on the ice at even strength and Thornton has been key on the power play for his team. All of that is great news.

However, there are some concerns when it comes to certain aspects of his game, such as faceoffs and shot generation, and Thornton certainly isn’t fleet of foot. But, as Wheeler points out, that’s not exactly why the Leafs signed him.

Joe Thornton San Jose Sharks
Joe Thornton San Jose Sharks

Can Thornton Fill a Role the Leafs Need?

Wheeler believes that with the right usage, Thornton could have a better season than he did one year ago. That might not be saying much considering he was eighth in scoring on a very bad San Jose Sharks team. Still, Thornton hasn’t lost his hands, he can protect the puck and he’s gotten off to a good start, joining the league late but being effective right out of the gate.

He’s averaging just 16:39 in time on ice per game and his 3.6 points per 60 minutes rank first on his team.

In a shortened season, Thornton should be just fine. In a compacted season, where the NHL might try to fit more games into a smaller window, Thornton could run into issues as the season progresses.

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