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Jonathan Cheechoo: Searching for a new start

Image (1) Cheech-thumb-250x166-7337.jpg for post 345

Four years ago, in just his third full NHL season, Jonathan Cheechoo led the league with 56 goals. He was on the verge of superstardom, and it seemed the entire hockey community was ready to embrace him as the next great player the NHL had to offer. Yet ever since that magical season it’s been a downhill slide for Cheechoo, and now he finds himself struggling to put the puck in the net in the AHL.

Mark Emmons of the San Jose Mercury News caught up with Cheechoo and his agent, who are working to revive a career that has been completely derailed. Cheechoo was part of the trade with the Ottawa Senators that sent Dany Heatley to San Jose, and after scoring just five goals in 61 games, he was sent down to the minors for salary cap purposes. That a player of his potential and pedigree could make it through waivers untouched speaks volumes about how far he’s fallen.

“This isn’t an ideal situation, and it’s certainly something that you don’t want to go through,” he said. “But I believe I belong up there. It’s up to me to prove that I’m still the player I believe I am.”

“I knew that I wasn’t playing the way I should,” he said. “I understand that the important thing is what you’re doing and not what you’ve done. I wasn’t producing at the level that they felt I should be.”

Emmons mentions that some scouts have said that Cheechoo is playing tentatively and unsure of himself, which happens when a goal scorer isn’t scoring goals. It’s not just an issue of him being in a slump and not able to put the puck in the net, however. Cheechoo isn’t producing anywhere near the amount of chances he’s had in the past. Look at his shot total for each season since his breakout year:

2005-06: 317
2006-07: 250
2007-08: 220
2008-09: 152
2009-10: 117

And the amount of games is steadily in the same 60-80 range; not enough of a change to make a difference. He’s playing soft on the ice and not creating chances for himself by putting himself in the right position. Cheechoo has always been a finisher, a player that capitalizes on the mistakes the defense makes around the net and is adept at burying passes from his teammates; perhaps the best in the NHL. Yet he failed to put himself in the right position time and again, and his shot total is the best example of why his goal scoring has dropped off so precipitously.

Perhaps playing next to Joe Thornton (who had 96 assists in 05-06) was what truly boosted Cheechoo’s numbers.

Whatever the case, he’ll get a new shot with a new team next year. Ottawa will buy out his contract and he can start over somewhere new. He has great ability and is a great player, but something needs to change. Not even heading to the AHL has done much for his game, and that’s saying something.