Joe Thornton, 41, feels 'young again' with new Maple Leafs teammates
Former Sharks centre opens camp on left side with Matthews, Marner to start camp
New Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joe Thornton says he feels a lot younger since joining his new squad.
"Just being around this useful energy gets me excited, and they've got a lot of it here," the 41-year-old veteran said Monday during his first full day of training camp with the Maple Leafs. "Just soak it all in. I feel like I'm young again, it's a good feeling to be in."
Thornton has started camp on the left wing of the Leafs' top line, along with 23-year-old stars Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Thornton made his NHL debut three weeks after Matthews was born and won the 2006 Hart Trophy as NHL MVP before his linemates were 10.
"They're two special guys," Thornton said. "Really fun to be around and obviously really talented players."
Thornton signed a one-year contract with Toronto for the league minimum of $700,000 US in October, ending a successful 15-year tenure with the San Jose Sharks. He will be counted on to bring a veteran presence to a club that is big on talent but sorely lacking in post-season success.
"Whatever happened in the past really doesn't matter to me," Thornton said. "It's a new season, new slate."
Thornton has been listed as a centre for most of his NHL career. But if some were surprised that Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe put Thornton at left wing to start camp, the veteran wasn't among them.
'Enjoy' the game
"I kind of played like a rover in San Jose anyway," said Thornton, who added he played left wing during a recent stint with Swiss club HC Davos. "I feel comfortable up there."
Thornton, who has put up 420 goals and 1,089 assists in 1,509 regular-season NHL games and 31 goals and 102 assists in 179 playoff contests, said his advice to his young teammates is to play with no fear.
"What I'm going to stress to these guys is every day just enjoy it," Thornton said. "It goes by so fast."
Forward Zach Hyman, a relative veteran at 28, said Thornton is a "larger than life figure" who brings a needed presence.
"You hear tons of stories about him throughout the league, and it's fun to get to know him," Hyman said. "It's going to be exciting to have some of my own stories of him as the year goes on."
Wayne Simmonds says his new uniform suits him.
"I skated by the glass again today, still look good in blue and white," the Maple Leafs forward said.
Simmonds is part of a group of veteran forwards who made the trip home late in their career. He signed a one-year, $1.5-million US contract in the off-season to play in his hometown.
"This is probably the greatest organization in the NHL, and I'm honoured to be a part of it," he said.
The 32-year-old Simmonds has 251 goals and 499 points in 909 career games with the Los Angeles Kings, Philadelphia Flyers, Nashville Predators, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres over his 12 NHL seasons.
He joins Ontario veterans Thornton and Jason Spezza, who signed a second one-year contract with Toronto at the league minimum after posting nine goals and 25 points with the Maple Leafs last season.
"To put on that Leaf uniform, you know being from southwestern Ontario, growing up and watching the Leafs, watching Dougie Gilmour, Wendel Clark, Mats [Sundin], it was a thrill for me," said Thornton, who grew up in nearby St. Thomas, Ont., south of London.
Raising the bar
The Montreal Canadiens were one of the pleasant surprises of last year's post-season.
Now, after a promising playoff run in Toronto and an off-season roster shakeup by general manager Marc Bergevin, they'll no longer play the role of plucky underdog -- and that's just fine with the team's leaders.
"I think everyone here is excited," captain Shea Weber said Monday. "Speaking to the guys, the additions coming in are excited to be here. They saw what we're all about in the bubble and how close we were, and I think everyone here is also super happy to see we made some moves that are helping our team and we're moving in the right direction."
The lowest-ranked team in the 24-team post-season, the Habs upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the qualifying round in Toronto before falling to the Eastern Conference's top-seeded Philadelphia Flyers in six games.
Signings of forwards Corey Perry and Tyler Toffoli and trades for defenceman Joel Edmundson, forward Josh Anderson and goalie Jake Allen have made the Habs a trendy pick to be a serious threat in the North Division.
"We have more experience," goalie Carey Price said. "We have young guys who learned what it's like to play in playoffs last season … and we made some great additions in the off-season, which is going to help us move forward."
Inconsistent play in the crease behind Price was one of the main reasons the Canadiens star saw more time than any other goalie the past two seasons.
Allen, 12-6-3 with a 2.15 goals-against average and .927 save percentage last season with St. Louis, should help Price get some more rest in a compressed schedule.
Price acknowledged a goaltending tandem is "definitely the trend."
"I've never been one to want to give the net up, but it seems to be a winning formula," Price said.
Bigger and better
Much was made of the Canadiens' speed last season.
This season, the Habs made a point of getting bigger.
The six-foot-four, 215-pound Edmundson adds size to the Canadiens' blueline, while the six-foot-three Anderson and Perry both are bigger forwards.
"We don't plan on trying to change our approach to our team," Habs coach Claude Julien said. "When you look at the players we got, they're all guys who can still skate, all guys who move the puck quick. All we needed to do to help our system work even better is get a bit bigger and stronger and that's what we've done."
Julien was back on the ice with the team for the first time on Monday since having to leave the post-season to have a stent installed in a coronary artery.
"I feel great right now," he said. "If you ask me right now, it's almost like it never happened."
Nate Schmidt admitted that he was nervous coming into Vancouver.
Though he's logged 140 points (29 goals and 111 assists) in nearly 400 NHL games, the 29-year-old defenceman said you never know if something will go wrong with the physical move or if you'll fit in well in the dressing room.
"It's just nice to have that first [practice] out of the way, all that anxiety, so we can just move forward here and move forward with day two," Schmidt said Monday.
The native of St. Cloud, Minn., came to Vancouver in a trade from Vegas during the off-season and is known for having a big personality. He was careful to hold some of it back Monday.
"Sometimes, I've got to make sure I give it to the guys in doses at first. I didn't know how much to bark and yell today because I didn't want them to get overwhelmed," he said with a laugh, adding that integrating into the team has gone "great" so far.
Braden Holtby is new to the Canucks, too, having inked a two-year, $8.6-million US deal with Vancouver in free agency. But the former Vezina Trophy winner knows all about Schmidt's big personality from the time they spent playing together with the Washington Capitals.
"I think I've warned enough guys," Holtby said. "No, I think it's awesome. I think he's showed his energy already. It's a positive energy. I think it's going to be infectious for this group."
Canucks coach Travis Green, who paired Schmidt with veteran Vancouver defenceman Alex Edler on Monday, has no concerns about how the new faces will fit in.
Schmidt's outgoing demeanour could even be a boon for the team during the condensed season, Green said.
"He's got a lot of positive energy," he said. "We like that in players. We want players that just love playing the game. You can put him in that category, where there's no bad day at the rink. And that's important."