Preliminary 16-man rosters for each team competing in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey were released Wednesday.
Predictably, Team Canada is heavily star-studded and has to be considered the early favorite to win the tournament this September. Few countries can compete with a forward group featuring the likes of Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Steven Stamkos and John Tavares, to name a few.
But there’s a notable omission from that list of skilled forwards. His name is Joe Thornton, and he’s currently ranked top-10 in the NHL in scoring this season.
Thornton has points in 29 of his last 33 games, compiling 44 points over that period. The talented pivot leads the league in scoring since Dec. 15.
With 60 points in 62 games this season, Thornton is in a three-way tie with Crosby and Nicklas Backstrom — both named to World Cup rosters Wednesday — for eighth place in the league scoring race. Thornton is well on his way to besting the 65 points he tallied last season, and he’s on pace for the 12th 20-goal campaign of his career. (Is there a more underrated goal-scorer in the league than Thornton, who’s steadily approaching 400?)
All Three Zones
Unlike the early days of his pro career with the Boston Bruins, Thornton is not just an offensive force. The 36-year-old center has come a long way in improving his two-way play and penalty killing. He’s been a positive plus/minus in every year but one with the San Jose Sharks since joining the franchise in 2005. Thornton is currently tied for fifth in the league with a +23 rating, just behind linemate Joe Pavelski.
Routinely used on the penalty kill and relied on to match up with the opposition’s top line, Thornton plays a steady, responsible game in all three zones. He’s the farthest thing from one-dimensional. That, coupled with his elite strength and size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds), makes Thornton more than able to contribute in a bottom-six shutdown role if needed. Given the sheer depth of high-end talent Canada has to choose from, that’s the type of role Thornton would realistically be expected to fill on the World Cup roster.
Thornton’s long history with Team Canada dates back to 1997, when he represented his country at the World Junior Championships as an 18-year-old. He registered four points in seven matches, helping Canada to a gold medal. In 2001, Thornton played with the Canadian men’s team at the World Championships in Germany, tallying a goal and an assist in six games.
On Canada’s championship-winning 2004 World Cup squad, Thornton placed third in tournament scoring with six points in six games. He led all players in scoring during the IIHF World Championship in 2005 with 16 points in nine games for Canada, who would finish with a silver medal.
Since then, Thornton has played for Team Canada at the 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics. He won gold with current teammate Patrick Marleau and then-teammates Dany Heatley and Dan Boyle at the 2010 games in Vancouver.
The Days Ahead
No doubt Thornton’s performance over the coming weeks, particularly during the playoffs, will play a factor in determining whether he is named to Canada’s final World Cup roster. Teams can be composed of up to 25 players, leaving open the door for nine additions to the club.
There’s a lot of talent in the mix at the forward position, including San Jose’s own Logan Couture and Philadelphia Flyers standout Claude Giroux, but Thornton’s play this season has to place him firmly in the conversation. He’s got the track record to back it up.
Final rosters for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey must be submitted no later than June 1.
Sam Kelly is an experienced sports writer with a passion for the game of hockey. He currently covers the San Jose Sharks for The Hockey Writers and is a production assistant at Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. He’ll never forgive the Sharks for blowing a three-game series lead over the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the 2014 playoffs.