When Team Canada is rounding into form prior to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, don’t be surprised if you see Joe Thronton’s name among the players to make the final cut. While he didn’t appear to have much of a chance of making the squad prior to the beginning of the 2013-14 season, Jumbo’s play early on has garnered him some much-deserved attention and, perhaps, another chance to wear the Maple Leaf at the Olympics.
Things were much different in 2010, of course. Sidney Crosby was making his Olympic debut, Dany Heatley was considered a shoo-in on the squad and both Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer were still playing and capable of anchoring a blue line at the Olympic level.
Much has changed over the last four years. Players have emerged. The old guard has changed over. One thing that hasn’t shifted much is Thornton’s ability to distribute the puck at a high level.
Canada is stacked at center. That isn’t news to anyone. Yet folks who haven’t watched Thornton play this season might be caught off guard by the level of quickness and dexterity he’s shown out on the ice. While he’s always been big, he seems to have added some speed to his game this season, which will only increase his odds at making the final roster.
Another thing worth considering is what Thornton’s been able to do with his linemates this season. Everyone that slots in on his line scores goals. Tomas Hertl gets all the love, yet it’s Thornton digging out pucks behind the net and setting him up with slick passes. Brent Burns might not have transitioned from defense to forward so cleanly if it weren’t for a world-class passer like Thornton getting him pucks in close.
Some pundits may think that Thornton’s game has fallen off since the 2010 Games, but they’d be wrong. He put up 89 points in 2009-10, prior to the games. He finished 2010-11 with 70. Right now San Jose’s captain is on pace for (you guessed it) 89 points. While he may or may not maintain that pace, it just shows that his game is still at the same level that it was in 2010 when he represented Canada.
So while Thornton may force a younger player off the roster, he wouldn’t be heading to Russia based on nostalgia. Team Canada is better with him than they are without, and he’s still one of the best passers in the game. If he maintains his current level of play, there’s no way Jumbo is sitting at home, watching the games from his coach.
He’ll be defending the Gold he helped earn in the first place.