SAN JOSE - Joe Thornton was in particularly high spirits Friday morning when he met with the local media, smiling as he insisted on keeping his scrum short and sweet so he could prep to go see Metallica at the new Chase Center.
But the 40-year-old center, who agreed to a one-year contract to return to the Sharks on Friday, also is a little extra elated because, for the first time in a couple of seasons, he's set to enter training camp healthy.
"It feels good," Thornton said without hesitation. "I had two summers in a row with rehab so this summer was really nice."
Injuries have hampered No. 19's playtime in the season's following the Sharks' 2016 Stanley Cup Final run. Thornton had his 2017-18 campaign cut short after sustaining a knee injury that required surgery. After entering training camp the following fall with plans to return to the ice full-time, Thornton missed nine of the first 11 games due to complications in the surgically repaired knee last season.
Now, for the first time in a long time, Thornton's summer workout regimen didn't require him to tend to any injuries.
"In the last two previous summers, I had to go to rehab every day and I really couldn't focus on what I needed to do," Thornton explained. "Really, I wasn't skating until later on because my knee just wasn't ready. This summer, I've been skating for about a month and a half now, getting stronger. My body feels really, really good."
Needless to say, entering the off-season without a significant injury was a boost for the surefire Hall-of-Famer -- one that made his decision to play another season much easier.
"It wasn't too long after the season ended I started getting back into the gym and feeling good," Thornton said, adding that he took some time off to rest before he resumed skating in early August while he and his family were in Switzerland. "It wasn't too long after the season was over I decided I'd keep going."
Sharks general manager Doug Wilson echoed the importance of Thornton being healthy as the season approaches.
"When you look back and realize this was the first summer in, what, three years he hasn't had extensive rehab, it's pretty incredible," Wilson marveled.
The amazement at Thornton's commitment to continue playing is infectious, Wilson explained, and Thornton makes a big impact on the young players in the dressing room.
"It's funny to see all the young kids come in and look over and see Joe Thornton in the gym," Wilson said with a smile. "(It) just creates a lot of energy and excitement around this group."
There's also excitement in anticipating Thornton's continued climb up the NHL's record books. Despite missing those nine games at the start of last season, Thornton still managed to leapfrog a handful of the game's Hall of Famers, ending the regular season eighth on the all-time assists list (1,065) and 14th on the all-time points list (1,478). He finished his 73-game campaign ranked seventh on the Sharks in assists (35), eighth in points (51), and tied for fourth with four game-winning goals.
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Now, whether Thornton is able to play a full 82-game season still remains to be seen. At the very least, he's ready to start the season off healthier than he's been in the last few years.