As an elite playmaking center with years of consistently effective play under his belt, Joe Thornton could have a significant impact as a member of the New York Rangers.
The New York Rangers had no lack of depth on their roster in 2016-2017. However, Joe Thornton’s playmaking ability could compliment the Rangers’ focus on puck movement. He could further improve the Rangers play through transition game, their net front presence and their production on the power play.
Joe Thornton played some of his best hockey in his late 30s. During the 2015-16 season, Thornton earned a point per game (82 points in 82 games) at age 36.
And the most notable aspect of Thornton’s game has been his consistency.
Thornton has1,391 points in 1,446 career games. He has posted anywhere from 60 points to 114 points in each season since 1999-00. The NHL’s lockout in 2012 didn’t put a damper on Thornton’s production either. He had 40 points (seven goals, 33 assists) in 48 games.
Despite the pressure that gets placed on players in their late 30s, Thornton has shown that his consistency comes from his play making ability. An attribute that will likely earn him a spot in the Hall of Fame upon his exit from hockey.
Play in Transition
They call Thornton “Jumbo” for a reason. At 6’4”, 220 pounds, he has some serious size to him.
That size does not negatively affect his transition game at all. His physicality in all three zones and his ability to move his feet and get the puck up ice allow him to put the puck in dangerous areas of the ice. He can box players out with his size and maintain possession of the puck and has the ability to body players off the puck along the boards.
While it is a combination of the aforementioned aspects of Thornton’s game that make him so successful, it is his passing ability that is his strongest attribute.
His ability to work the puck in the offensive zone is important. But it is his vision and the accuracy that makes him such an elite offensive threat.
While Thornton can make passes from almost anywhere on the ice and get them on a teammates stick, he is most dangerous when he plays from behind the net.
A majority of Thornton’s points have come off assists. This season, he was the 13th player in NHL history to break the 1,000 assist mark. This statistic shows how successfully he can place pucks. It also shows how much of an impact he has on the players around him.
Impact on the Power Play
The New York Rangers’ power play was one of the weakest parts of their game this season.
Through the course of his career, Thornton has performed well with the extra man. In fact, about 35% of the points he has registered in his career have come in these scenarios.
Thornton serves as a great quarterback on the power play. His size and ability to keep possession are two keys to this. But it is his hockey sense coupled with his passing ability that has allowed for his 369 powerplay assists (compared to his 632 even strength assists).
Thornton’s style of play begs for him to be played in man-down situations and he could be a key to helping to turn around a Rangers power play that has struggled for years.
Opportunities for Thornton
If the New York Rangers managed to pick up Thornton, he could be a great fit for the roster and would make an impact.
He’d be a great compliment to a player like Rick Nash because of Nash’s ability to walk in and use his skill to score goals. Or a younger option like Pavel Buchnevich, who has a good deal of raw talent, a nasty wrister and a lot of room to grow.
A more consistent regular season player like J.T. Miller could really find a groove with Thornton. While a big-bodied player with speed like Chris Kreider could amplify Thornton’s ability to pass in transition and could encourage him to make more so from behind the net.
The best part is, the options would be limitless. The thing about Thornton is you could put him anywhere on a roster and he would generate points and ultimately make the players around him better.
There are definitely some risks that would be associated with picking up Thornton, but if the Rangers pick him up they are sure to get good hockey out of him. This coming season, Thornton will be playing to win a Cup. A spot on the Rangers could offer him a very real opportunity.
So long as he recovers well from his torn ACL and MCL this offseason he is an unrestricted the New York Rangers would benefit from pursuing.