Joseph Eric Thornton (born July 2, 1979) is a Canadian professional ice hockey centre and alternate captain for the San Jose Sharks of the National Hockey League (NHL). He was drafted by and played seven seasons for the Boston Bruins before being traded to San Jose in 2005–06. He was an Art Ross– and Hart Memorial Trophy-recipient in his first season with the Sharks. Thornton’s on-ice vision, strength on the puck, deft passing ability, and power forward style of play have led to him becoming one of the league’s premier top line centres.
Junior career (1995–1997)
Joe played for the St. Thomas Stars Jr. B hockey club of St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada before moving on to the Jr. A level. Thornton played major junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds for two seasons, beginning in 1995–96. He posted a 76-point season as a rookie, earning him the Emms Family Award as the OHL’s top first-year player, as well as CHL Rookie of the Year honours. The following season, in 1996–97, Thornton improved to 41 goals and 122 points, second overall in league scoring behind Marc Savard of the Oshawa Generals, and was named to the OHL Second All-Star Team.
Boston Bruins (1997–2005)
After his second OHL season, Thornton was drafted first overall in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by the Boston Bruins. He made the immediate jump to the NHL from junior, debuting with the Bruins in 1997–98. However, with high expectations, Thornton was made a healthy scratch early in the season and did not score his first NHL goal until December 3, 1997, in a 3–0 win against the Philadelphia Flyers. He completed his rookie campaign managing 7 points in 55 games. The following season, Thornton was able to make a significant impact and improved to 41 points in 81 games, including a 9-point effort in 11 playoff games that post-season. He continued to build as a key player in the Bruins’ lineup, culminating in his appointment as team captain in 2002–03, succeeding previous captain Jason Allison who had left for the Los Angeles Kings after the 2000–01 season. Thornton responded with a 101-point season, third in league-scoring, behind Peter Forsberg and Markus Näslund, and his highest output as a Bruin.
After dipping back down to 73 points in 77 games the next season in 2003–04, Thornton went abroad to play for HC Davos due to the 2004–05 NHL lockout, where he played on a line with fellow young Canadian star Rick Nash and Niklas Hagman, winning the Swiss ice hockey championship. With the NHL set to resume in 2005–06, Thornton was a restricted free agent and reportedly unhappy with the state of the franchise, as well as the criticism of his play in the Bruins’ early playoff exit in 2004. Thornton was under heavy scrutiny for his leadership while and was criticized for being unable to raise his level of play during the playoffs, as he never scored more than nine points in two series or finished with a plus/minus rating higher than +1. Many people feel that Robbie Ftorek gave Thornton the “C” too early.[by whom?] Regardless, Thornton re-signed with the team on August 11, 2005, to a three-year deal worth US$20 million.
In the midst of another career year, the Bruins were, however, struggling in the standings and on November 30, 2005, Thornton was traded to the San Jose Sharks in a blockbuster four-player deal, which sent forwards Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau and defenceman Brad Stuart to Boston. Thornton was the team’s leading scorer at the time by a substantial margin.
San Jose Sharks
Upon arriving in San Jose, Thornton improved the Sharks’ fortunes and found instant chemistry with winger Jonathan Cheechoo. During the absence of usual alternate captain Alyn McCauley from the San Jose lineup, Thornton donned the “A” for the first time as a Shark in a game against the Phoenix Coyotes on March 30, 2006, and wore the “A” whenever McCauley was out of the lineup for the remainder of the season. Tallying 92 points in 58 games with the Sharks since the trade, Thornton helped Cheechoo to a Rocket Richard Trophy-winning season with 56 goals, while he would himself lead the NHL with 96 assists and 125 points total to earn the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s top scorer, the first player to do so the same season he was traded. In the playoffs, however, Thornton was once again criticized for his play as his production decreased to 2 goals and 9 points in 11 games as the Sharks were ousted in the second round. In the off-season, Thornton was honoured for his regular season play and was awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy as league MVP to go with his Art Ross Trophy.
Thornton began the 2006–07 campaign being awarded permanent alternate captaincy, but initially produced at a far slower pace than his Hart Trophy-winning year the previous season. He did not score his first goal of the season until the Sharks’ 12th game. However, it was later revealed he was battling a toe injury for the entire first half of the season, until he was finally able to recover in January. After recovering, Thornton enjoyed a productive second half, battling Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby for a second consecutive scoring title late in the year, eventually finishing second in scoring to Crosby with 114, 6 fewer than the Pittsburgh sophomore. Thornton became only the third player in NHL history to record back to back 90 assist seasons, joining Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.
It appeared as though Thornton was finally having the breakout postseason expected of him all these years after he recorded six assists (although no goals) in the first-round series against Nashville. He proceeded to score a goal and add three assists in the Sharks’ first three games of the second round against Detroit. However, Thornton was effectively neutralized by superstar Red Wings defenceman Nicklas Lidström, among others, in the final three games of the series, as the Sharks were once again bounced from the playoffs in the second round.
In 2008–09, Thornton was named captain of the Western Conference for the 2009 NHL All-Star Game in Montreal. That post season he recorded 1 goal and 4 assists in six games for 5 points in a first round loss to the rival Anaheim Ducks. 
In July 2009, Thornton became a naturalized United States citizen at a ceremony in Campbell, California, a small city near San Jose.
Thornton was accused of hitting two police officers on May 17, 2003, after coming to the aid of his brother, John Thornton, at the bar Burty Bob’s Two in St. Thomas, Ontario. He faced two charges of assaulting police and one of obstructing justice. Crown lawyer Kevin Gowdey announced at a court hearing he would not be pursuing the case against the Bruins captain (at the time) in return for Thornton apologizing to the parties involved and beginning a “significant period of community service.”