Joe Thornton Belongs at the Olympics

SAN JOSE- Despite leading the league in assists with 41, four ahead of second place Sidney Crosby, Sharks center Joe Thornton apparently isn’t a lock to play for Team Canada.

If you look at projected rosters from various NHL media, some don’t have him on there. And that is just flat absurd. Thornton ought to be as much of a lock for Canada as teammate Joe Pavelski was for Team USA.

Not only does Thornton lead the league in assists, but the 34-year-old center has been a dominant two-way player over the past four-five seasons. He is plenty capable of dominating night in and night out even against opposing team’s top lines. The San Jose power-play runs through No. 19 and the physically imposing captain even kills penalties.

Late in San Jose’s 5-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday, Thornton was out penalty killing. With his ridiculously awesome stick reach, Thornton was able to poke the puck away from Oilers forward Ales Hemsky for an important clear. At the time of the strong defensive effort, penalty kill linemate John McCarthy was without a stick. Thornton’s play saved his penalty kill group a lot of energy and possibly saved a goal.

“Jumbo doesn’t penalty kill as much as he used to but he does take every important face-off” commented Sharks head coach Todd McLellan after the game. “It started there [in the face-off dot] and then he was able to anticipate a pass with his long reach and clear it out. We count on him in every situation, I thought he did a very good job establishing that our team was going to come to play tonight. He did that as an individual, his line did it collectively, and everyone followed.”

Sure sounds like a heck of a captain, right?

“He made a good play, a lot of respect for him, the way he plays the game” added teammate and fellow Team Canada hopeful Logan Couture. “He’s the best passer in the world [and] since I’ve been here his all around game has been very good. He’s fun to watch and great to play with.”

At 6’4 and anywhere from 225-235 pounds, Thornton has always been and remains to this day an absolute beast to handle, especially down low in the corners. He is having yet another incredible season. He is on pace for 92 points which would be his highest total since before the 2010 Olympics. The last time he eclipsed 90 points was the 2007-08  season when he finished with  96.

Thornton was part of the Team Canada group that won the Gold in 2010, and he’s just as good if not better than he was that season. Certainly a lot of younger Canadian studs have hit their prime since then but there is absolutely no good reason to keep Thornton off the 2014 squad.

Even on the bigger Olympic ice, with the way defensive systems in hockey have grown over the years, teams need to be able to wear down defenders with size. Hockey is less of a finesse game than it was in the mid 2000’s, it’s back to a grittier game. Thornton thrives by using his big body and reach to shield off defenders and deliver ridiculously improbable passes right on the tape.

Joe Thornton can dominate in all situations and it would be completely asinine to leave him off the Canadian roster.

As always, for more on the Sharks, follow Andrew on twitter: @ViewFromBensch

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