NHL History: 30 best players in the 21st century (Updated 2023)

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Joe Thornton
Joe Thornton: (Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports) /

30 best NHL players of the 21st century: 9. Joe Thornton

Joe Thornton is someone who saw himself blossom on new teams while his old team wonders what happened. Thornton was drafted first overall by the Boston Bruins and enjoyed menial success during his 7 1/2 seasons there when compared to what he was about to do. When he was traded to the San Jose Sharks on November 30th, 2005, he became the best player in the league.

Thornton won the Hart Trophy in the season when he was traded. He never really slowed down, putting up 1,055 points over 15 seasons with the Sharks.  He’s considered one of the best pure centers ever, and he was constantly at the top of the league in assist numbers. Whoever you put on his line, he could make them a 30-goal scorer.

In the prime of his career, Thornton was the best special teams player in the game. He wasn’t the best penalty killer or the best power-play specialist, but when combining both skills, nobody could touch him.

When his team had the man advantage, he always found where the open space was on the ice. During his prime, he would easily break 10 goals and 30 points on the power play alone. On the PK, he was great at getting the puck out of the zone. He knew where space would open up, and he could jump the pass to get it out of the zone.

Thornton’s ability to play as he did for so long was incredibly impressive. His longevity shows someone with his skill set can play as long as they’d like. He transitioned his game from a hard-nosed center to a high hockey IQ bottom-six forward. He’s still playing well with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He put up more points than anyone between 2000 and 2010. Second on that list was…