Joe Thornton has been an established center and star player in the NHL for the past 19 years. He entered league at 18 years old after being drafted 1st overall by the Boston Bruins in 1995. Even with disappointing playoff performances and a dissenting fan base in Boston, Thornton was able to compile an astounding season in 2005, when he won the Hart (MVP) and Ross (Most Points) trophies in the same year.
However, that accomplishment was not enough as Joe was traded to the San Jose Sharks following the lockout season. From there, Joe would lead the league in assists for the next 2 years, as he became a cornerstone piece the San Jose franchise. The only other players with more assists than Joe Thornton are: Wayne Gretzky, Ron Francis, Mark Messier, Ray Bourque, Paul Coffey, Jaromir Jagr, Adam Oates, Steve Yzerman, Gordie Howe, Marcel Dionne, Mario Lemieux, and Joe Sakic. The next season should be enough for him to join those aforementioned players, as the 13th player in NHL history to record at least 1,000 assists.
Stanley Cup Finals
All of those accomplishments from Thornton are stupefying, especially when recognizing that he may go down as one of the best players ever to never win in the Stanley Cup finals. However, Jumbo Joe is still a lock to be in the hall of fame. Just look at Adam Oates, the former journeyman center turned coach of the Washington Capitals. Oates was an undrafted free agent signing by the Detroit red Wings at age 23.
Spending most of his 22 year career in Boston and Washington, Oates made a name for himself as an undersized center with consistent output. Leading the league in assists three separate times, Adam Oates was never able to win an award or find a Stanley Cup victory. Just like Joe Thornton, Oates only played for the Cup once in 1997-98 against Scotty Bowman’s Detroit Red Wings dynasty. While that lost never stopped Oates from being elected into the Hall of Fame, the comparison to Joe Thornton is evident. Both have been gifted passers, on good teams only to fall short against generational talents of their respective eras.