SUN Hockey Pool

Jonathan and Joe a smokin' combo in San Jose

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:14 AM ET

Cheech has found his Chong.

And together, they're rolling up points, lighting up goalies and smoking the opposition.

"It's exciting when you get a player of that magnitude,'' said Jonathan Cheechoo, who's been the hottest hand in the NHL since Joe Thornton arrived in San Jose. "He's top 10 in the league, I'd say top 5 - one of the best passers I've seen in a long time.''

Cheechoo had decent numbers last season - 28 goals in a supporting role - but he's taking it to an entirely different stratosphere with Thornton as his centre, scoring at nearly a goal-a-game pace (28 in 34). His 35 goals are sixth in the NHL and his six game winners are tied for fifth.

"Things have been going well,'' said the 25-year-old from Moose Factory, Ontario. "I've got a lot of confidence and the puck seems to be finding the net, which is always a good thing.''

Head coach Ron Wilson admits Thornton's had a major impact on the Sharks, who are 20-9-4 since he got there, but he says Cheechoo was due for a breakout season anyway.

"It's hard for a coach or anyone to describe how a guy puts himself in position to score big goals, he just does it, it's a knack that he has.

"A lot of people will say he's scoring because he's Joe Thornton's right winger, but he was scoring last season playing on the third line. He's just one of those guys who has an ability to finish plays.''

Thanks to Cheechoo's finish, Thornton went into last night's game tied for the NHL lead in assists (63). He's set up 21 of Cheechoo's 28 goals since arriving. And, of course, those totals were upped by one each in the loss to the Oilers last night.

"He's just so easy to play with, he suits my game perfectly,'' said Thornton. "He's a great shooter, I like to pass to him.

"Not too many people know about him right now, but in the hockey world they know about him. He's scored the most goals in the league since Dec. 1. Cheech has great puck skills and a great shot. He just knows where to put it in.''

He doesn't skate like Ilya Kovalchuk wind, or dangle like Alex Ovechkin, but he's scoring with both of them.

"He just has a nose for the net, goes to the net hard all the time,'' said Wilson. "He's not pleasing to look at from a skating point of view ... but you can't argue with the results he has.

"I can say the same thing about Ryan Smyth.''

Cheechoo, who studies film of other NHL greats who weren't that quick on their feet, knows how to play to his strengths.

"I've been getting better at trying to find openings and holes where people aren't,'' he said. "You watch tapes on guys like Luc Robitaille and Brett Hull, picking up anything you can from them, is valuable information.''

Being picked for the Olympics would have been nice, but he wasn't, despite being the third highest goalscorer in Canada, behind Eric Staal and Simon Gagne. That's OK, he doesn't mind being one of the NHL's great unknowns.

"In the West, out in California, we don't get a lot of exposure. We fly under the radar a little bit, but that's not a big deal to me. I don't really care, to tell you the truth. I'm just happy to be here.''

Happy to even be mentioned among the game's elite.

"It's not something I envisioned, but it's something I worked hard for,'' he said. "It's always been one of my goals to get better and be the best player that I can be.''


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