Joe Thornton will have a big impact on the Toronto Maple Leafs this season, according to the general manager of his Swiss League team.
“[The Maple Leafs] know exactly what they bought with him,” Raeto Raffainer, GM of HC Davos, told Sportsnet in a story published Thursday. “The fire in his eyes and his whole body to win something is going to be huge. And he will help this organization (Toronto) to win, that’s for sure.”
Thornton, who signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Maple Leafs on Oct. 16, has been playing for HC Davos of the Swiss National League to prepare for the 2020-21 NHL season, which is targeted to begin Jan. 1, 2021.
Toronto has not advanced past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2004. It lost the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers in five games to the Columbus Blue Jackets last season after it was eliminated from the Eastern Conference First Round the previous three seasons.
“[Joe is] a very versatile guy that we think can play anywhere in our lineup depending on what we need or what’s happening,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe told TSN in remarks published Friday. “With him coming here, he’s going to be an important piece of our team. He’s coming here for a reason and we’re bringing him for a reason. We’re really excited to bring in somebody with his experience, his energy and the passion that he still has for the game. So no matter where he plays, he’s going to bring a lot to us and we’re excited about that and I know our players are as well.”
Thornton scored 31 points (seven goals, 24 assists) in 70 games with the San Jose Sharks last season, including eight power-play points, and won 49.4 percent of his face-offs; The 41-year-old center has won 52.5 percent of face-offs and has scored 540 power-play points (143 goals, 397 assists) in his 22-season NHL career.
“Even though [Thornton’s] face-off stats dropped a little bit last year, he’ll have an unbelievably large impact on important face-offs,” Raffainer said. “[Power play], we don’t even have to discuss it. When the coaching staff gives him a role, he’ll be there.”
Thornton has scored seven points (two goals, five assists) in six games with HC Davos.
“This was no surprise for me, because I’m a big fan of the NHL,” Raffainer said. “I saw Joe’s performance last year. I’ve known him as a player for almost 20 years, so he’s still the best in the league anticipating the game, seeing plays, and seeing people nobody else sees.”
Selected by the Boston Bruins with the No. 1 pick of the 1997 NHL Draft, Thornton has scored 1,509 points (420 goals, 1,089 assists) in 1,636 games with the Bruins and Sharks. He has scored 133 points (31 goals, 102 assists) in 179 Stanley Cup Playoff games.
Thornton is the leader among active NHL players in points and assists. He is seventh in assists, ninth in games and 14th in points in NHL history.
“When he feels ready to play, the way he works out every day, if he stays healthy, there’s no reason why he should not keep playing,” Raffainer said. “A lot of people are laughing: ‘He’s so old! Blah, blah, blah.’ But the impact he has on the ice, on the game, is still unbelievable. … So why shouldn’t he play until he’s not ready to play?”