New Leaf Joe Thornton met with the media on Monday after the team’s first on-ice training camp session, discussing his line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, his comfortability at left wing, and his expectations for the season.
What have the first few days been like? Zach Hyman was saying he was kidding you a little bit about the incident with Nazem Kadri a few years ago. What has it been like to get in here and be a Leaf and get acclimated?
Thornton: It has been real easy. They’re a super group of guys. Lots of laughter in the room; keeping it light today getting the first day going. It is a real good feeling around here. A lot of positive vibes.
What was Switzerland like, and does it help you get a leg up in this camp?
Thornton: It was beautiful. It was good to just play some games and get some tempo going. I love playing over there and going over there with the family. It kind of helped me stay in good shape and be ready for us to go here on January 13th.
What was it like pulling on the Leafs jersey for the first time? How does it sound playing on a line with Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews? Patty Marleau was their big brother a few years ago. Are you taking on that role?
Thornton: [Laughs] I don’t know. They’re two special guys. They’re really, really fun to be around and they’re obviously really talented players. To start with these guys is pretty special. The talent level these guys have — these guys grew up on skills coaches and things like that. They can do things I could never imagine doing. Being around this youthful energy gets me excited, and they’ve got a lot of it here. I feel like I am young again. It is a good feeling.
To put on that Leaf uniform, being from Southwestern Ontario and growing up and watching the Leafs — watching Dougie Gilmour, Wendel Clark, Mats — it is a thrill for me.
After so long in San Jose, what is the hardest part of this, or the most difficult thing about getting comfortable in a new environment with new guys?
Thornton: To be honest with you, it has been pretty easy. I was quarantined with some of the guys for 14 days, so I got to know some of the guys right off the hop. I feel comfortable. Even though I was in San Jose for so long, the guys really made me feel comfortable here. They’ve got a great staff and a good group. I feel at home again.
How much left wing have you played over the past few years?
Thornton: I kind of played like a rover in San Jose anyway. I might have taken some faceoffs, but I was pretty much a rover. Usually, when I am in Switzerland, I usually play left wing. It is normal to me.
If Auston is down low, I will be up high. If he is down low, I will take his spot and backcheck for him. It is kind of situational. But I feel comfortable there.
Were you surprised at all that Sheldon Keefe put you there to start?
Thornton: No, I feel comfortable there.
What is the level of pressure you are feeling this year compared to previous years? You seem supremely relaxed.
Thornton: I have no stress, man. I feel good. I feel comfortable. I tend to play with no stress — have a smile on my face, stay hungry. That is when I perform the best. At my age, I’ll just continue that.
You talked about the talent on this team. It is a team that has struggled when it comes to the playoffs. What can you bring to this team to help them over the hump?
Thornton: Whenever happened in the past really doesn’t matter to me. It is a new season with a new slate. Just bring energy every day. Be excited. Play with no fear. Just enjoy the game. That is what I am going to stress to these guys: Every day, just enjoy it. It goes by so fast. Put the work in, and you’ll be rewarded. We started today by putting the work in, and tomorrow we will go back at it. Enjoy what you do, and we’ll be fine.