When people think of famous late round picks in Boston sports history, most recall Tom Brady within a second. No one remembers the seventh round of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1997. On that fateful night, an irreplaceable Boston sports figure was drafted. His name was Shawn Thornton.
Shawn Thornton was a huge loss for the Bruins this offseason. He was a member of the team that would bleed, battle, and fight for his teammates. No, Thornton isn’t glamorous. Watching him labor down the ice, attempting to keep up with faster forwards, can be painful at times. His 4.5 shooting percentage is abysmal, and his highest adjusted point score sits just 0.3 above Patrick Kaleta. So how can someone who scored eight points this past season be irreplaceable? After all, Thornton has only averaged 9:04 time on ice per game in his career.
Shawn Thornton is what the whole city of Boston stands for: hard work, unselfishness, and he possesses a team first attitude. Thornton does everything that doesn’t light up the box score: he follows through on his checks, sparks the energy on the bench with a fight, and will protect his teammates at all costs. His defense of Loui Eriksson, resulting in sucker punching Brooks Orpik, earned Thornton a fifteen game suspension. Sure, Boston can insert a fighter from Providence such as Bobby Robins or Tyler Randell into the lineup, but neither possible replacement can be the spark plug that Thornton was.
As a victim of Boston’s cap crunch, Thornton signed with the Florida Panthers on the first day of free agency. In Sunrise, Thornton will take care of a new generation of Panthers. No longer looking like a team in contention for a top five draft pick, Florida boasts young talent across the roster, such as 2013 second overall pick Alexander Barkov and first overall pick Aaron Ekblad. Add in fellow young guns Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Hubardeau with proven veterans such as Dave Bolland, Tomas Fleischmann, and Jussi Jokinen, and Florida has quite a bit of talent up front. Thornton will jump right in with his typical enforcer role. From his spot on the fourth line, Thornton will bring leadership and a lot of playoff experience to Dale Tallon’s rapidly improving team.
As a lifelong Bruins fan, let me tell Panthers fans this: you’re lucky to have him in Florida, and don’t let him go.
(Photo: ESPN, Getty Images North America)