Sharks

Joe Thornton discusses whether he'll be back with the Sharks next season

Joe Thornton discusses whether he'll be back with the Sharks next season

SAN JOSE -- Even before the Sharks’ 2019 playoff run got underway, the “Win For Jumbo” mantra and the idea of getting into the Cup Final at cap off Joe Thornton’s Hall of Fame career picked up a ton of steam.

But Thornton is a team guy. So it wasn’t too surprising when No. 19  told the media on Thursday morning that he didn’t buy too heavily into that line of thinking.

“I think that was more for you guys,” he laughed. “I think this whole area needs a Cup.”

Not that anyone in the greater Silicon Valley would dispute that. But the desire of the Sharks’ fan base to see No. 19 win a Cup Final ramped up as the 39-year-old forward skated in what many think could be his final season.

As Thornton stood clad in a hoodie as he addressed the press one last time this season, his future continues to remain uncertain. Although he made it clear he hasn’t ruled out a return next season.

“I’ve got to talk to Pete and Doug and Hasso – but we’ll see,” he said. “I haven’t made any decision. I feel like I can still play, that’s for sure, but I haven’t made any decision at all yet.”

One of those decisions, of course, revolves around his health. For the first time in a few years, Thornton is entering the offseason without a serious injury that needs rehab. Nevertheless, how he feels with the general bumps and bruises that come with a long playoff run will also play into his decision.

“It weighs on you man, it does,” he said of coming back from injuries. “It’s a grind that rehab process. Some guys are going to have to go through it this summer and it’s a grind. It’s mentally tough to do that every single day and not sure what the outcome is going to be. For me personally, don’t have that issue. We’ll see.”

Thornton’s 2019 campaign was nothing short of impressing. After missing time at the start of the season due to complications with his surgically-repaired knee, he evolved into Team Teal’s third-line center and began climbing up the NHL’s all-time points list. For him to get so close to going to another Stanley Cup Final and coming up two wins short was hard for even his teammates to watch.

Tomas Hertl, who was watching San Jose’s Game 6 loss to the St. Louis Blues from afar due to a head injury, called seeing Thornton’s disappointed face on the television screen on of the toughest parts of the playoff exit.

“On the TV, when I saw Jumbo, that was the hardest moment,” Hertl said sadly. “We lost and we see Jumbo, how he wants it and how he played in the playoffs, how he was hunting the Cup. To see him lose two games before the Final was really hard.”

Now the questions as to whether Thornton will return carry even more weight as the Sharks offseason – and likely an eventful offseason at that – gets underway. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson has many questions to answer before next season, but he made it clear he would love to have Thornton in the mix.

“I have such tremendous respect for him, not just as a hockey player but as a man,” Wilson said. “He can have all the time he needs to make whatever decision’s right for him. But we love him. I think I’ve been in this business a long time, I’ve never met anyone like him and we cherish the days we have him. Whatever decision he makes, we’re there for him.”

[RELATED: End-of-season observations on Sharks]

“I’d love to see him again,” Hertl said, “and try to help him because he’s a great teammate and he’s a great locker room player. I started with him and he showed me the way.”

There is one thing Thornton made clear. If he does in fact return for another season, he won’t be playing for any other team.

“I’m a Shark,” he said. “There’s one team, and it’s here.”

Why Peter DeBoer credits Joe Thornton in Sharks' wild Vegas comeback

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AP

Why Peter DeBoer credits Joe Thornton in Sharks' wild Vegas comeback

In the aftermath of the Sharks' improbable -- if controversial -- Stanley Cup playoff comeback against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 7 of the first round, San Jose coach Peter DeBoer credited veteran center Joe Thornton for speaking up in the immediate aftermath of then-captain Joe Pavelski's head injury. 

Earlier this week, San Jose's bench boss revealed that the 40-year-old did so at the expense of his own playing time. DeBoer told The Athletic's Craig Custance at a presentation during the Hockey Coaches Conference in Toronto this week that, when the Sharks scored their third goal on the contentious major penalty back on April 23, Thornton said DeBoer shouldn't put the veteran's power-play unit on the ice. 

Kevin Labanc scored the Sharks' fourth goal -- and his fourth point -- of the power play 28 seconds after Couture tied the game 3-3. San Jose scored two goals within 1:04 of the major penalty being called, with forwards Couture, Labanc, Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl joined on the ice by defenseman Erik Karlsson. Thornton, Evander Kane, Gustav Nyquist and Marcus Sorensen took the ice with defenseman Brent Burns after the first two goals, but the Golden Knights held the second unit to two shots on goal and no goals for nearly two minutes of power-play time. 

Couture tied Game 7 with about 1:20 remaining on the power play, scoring the top power-play unit's third goal on their fifth shot attempt. On their sixth, Labanc gave the Sharks the lead. 

[RELATED: Sharks prospect Chekhovich has skill to earn NHL spot]

They still needed overtime to advance to the second round, but riding their hot hands resulted in an historic power play for the Sharks. According to DeBoer, he can thank Thornton for that. 

Sharks prospects to watch: Ivan Chekhovich has skill to earn NHL spot

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AP

Sharks prospects to watch: Ivan Chekhovich has skill to earn NHL spot

Editor's Note: This week, NBC Sports California will highlight five different Sharks prospects to watch heading into the 2019-20 season. Some have a chance to make the NHL roster as soon as this year, while others face critical years in their development. We conclude with winger Ivan Chekhovich.

For the second straight year, Sharks prospect Ivan Chekhovich earned a look with the AHL's San Jose Barracuda late in the season. 

The 20-year-old left winger tied for second in the notoriously high-scoring QMJHL with 105 points (43 goals, 62 assists), and joined the Barracuda once more for their playoff push. While he wasn't as prolific as his first stint with the Barracuda, he showed he belonged at the professional level and scored seven points (three goals, four assists) in nine regular-season and playoff games. 

Chekhovich missed out on representing Russia at the IIHF World Junior Championship after injuring his back lifting weights but had about as strong of a season as he could have asked for to close out his junior career. He caught the eye of Barracuda coach Roy Sommer at the team's prospect development camp earlier this month and has the skill to push for an NHL roster spot in training camp. Here's what to expect from Chekhovich this season. 

Ivan Chekhovich

Draft year, position: 2017, seventh round (No. 212 overall)
Position: Left wing
Shoots: Left
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 180 pounds
2018-19 team: Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)/San Jose Barracuda (AHL)

Skill set

Chekhovich is a strong skater who is very creative on offense. He is a good passer and boasts a strong shot, with the hands to deke and dangle around defenders. That package has added plenty of plays to his highlight reel. 

He is perhaps a tad undersized at 5-foot-10 and could stand to bulk up a bit as he transitions to professional hockey. But, he does a strong stick that he uses to hound opponents on the forecheck. Chekhovich fits the mold of a winger who can succeed in a league increasingly relying upon players with skill and skating ability. 

Training-camp proving ground

Earlier this summer, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson mentioned Chekhovich among a list of candidates who will have a shot to make the team out of training camp. Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist are gone, and San Jose could use some skill among its top nine forwards, and the winger should get a long look.

But he'll face some competition in that regard. Joachim Blichfeld, who was the highest-scoring Sharks prospect with 114 points in the WHL last season, and free-agent signing Jonny Brodzinski likely will be in the mix, and centers Dylan Gambrell and Sasha Chmelevski can play on the wing. Considering how much the Sharks lost up front, though, he wouldn't have to beat out each of them to earn a spot. 

Best-case scenario

As one of the Sharks' final cuts at training camp, Chekhovich immediately emerges as one of the Barracuda's best players. He earns an NHL call-up by the end of October and works his way up DeBoer's lineup.

By the turn of the calendar, Chekhovich grabs a spot on either Logan Couture or Tomas Hertl's wing and stays there for the remainder of the season. Once the playoffs roll around, Chekhovich gives the Sharks much-needed depth and emerges as an x-factor. 

Worst-case scenario

Chekhovich makes the Sharks out of training camp but is sent down to the AHL after playing fewer than 10 games. His confidence takes a hit and his previous AHL scoring record -- he scored on six of his 27 shots (22.2 percent) in 19 AHL games over the last two years -- feels like a distant memory after some ill-timed regression to the mean. 

Although Chekhovich finds his footing by the end of his first full professional season, he doesn't do so quickly enough to get much more of a look from the Sharks throughout the year. He becomes an important player for the Barracuda, but there are questions about his long-term NHL potential.

[RELATED: Can Sharks' Ferraro go straight from college to the NHL?]

Realistic expectations

The Sharks surely will have to experiment throughout the season in order to replace their departing forwards, and Chekhovich should be among the forwards who get a look. He has the ability to hang around and the potential to do more than that if he proves to be a fit alongside Couture, Hertl or even veteran center Joe Thornton on a skilled third line. 

Chekhovich's first professional certainly wouldn't be a disappointment if he ends it in the AHL, but the Sharks will feel much better about their forward depth if he can hang on with the big club.