October 02 2012 06:22AM
With the NHL locked out, the mantle of “world’s best hockey league” falls to the 26-team Kontinental Hockey League. That league’s second leading scorer is one-time Edmonton Oilers forward Patrick Thoresen.
Which makes it time for my annual piece wondering why he isn’t in the NHL.
Patrick Thoresen, NHL’er
In May 2006, the Edmonton Oilers signed Thoresen to a two-year contract. He’d never been drafted but had emerged as a pretty decent player in the Swedish Elite League, picking up a respectable 36 points in 50 games at the age of 22. He was a training camp long-shot, but impressed early and ultimately made the team.
It kicked off two seasons that saw Thoresen play 120 games in the NHL between the regular season and playoffs, along with 34 in the minors. He played an energetic game, marrying defensive responsibility with a fourth-line work ethic, but struggled to score – though prolific in the minors, he recorded a point just 26 times in the majors.
His diligent two-way game was worth noting, though. Despite starting the lion’s share of his shifts in his own end of the rink and playing against decent opposition, his team routinely out-shot the opposition with him on the ice. Of course, he’s probably most famous for this (ignore Glenn Healy’s commentary – Thoreson took the puck off his testicles and couldn’t even walk afterward):
Flyers coach John Stevens sums up Thoresen’s attitude in the piece linked above: “[H]e's a quick study. You tell him something once and it's the last time you have to tell him. He's a well-rounded player, much stronger than his size would indicate.”
Unable to secure a one-way contract – no doubt thanks to his poor offensive totals – Thoresen headed for Europe in the summer of 2008. Despite my appreciation for the player’s defensive game, I thought that would be the end of it because he simply didn’t bring enough offence.
I was wrong. Thoresen quickly set about proving that he was capable of scoring.
2008-09, Swiss-A League: 48GP – 22G – 41A – 63PTS. Thoresen earned a berth on the Swiss all-star team after finishing as the league’s third-leading scorer. He also picked up a pair of goals and managed a respectable minus-3 rating (despite playing 21:12/game on a Norwegian team outscored 25-to-12) at the World Championships. Still, the Swiss-A league, while decent, isn’t the stiffest test for a professional player and six games on an underpowered world championship club proved almost nothing.
2009-10, KHL: 56GP – 24G – 33A – 57PTS, +45 (Playoffs: 15GP - 5G – 9A – 14PTS, +3). Thoresen played on one of the best lines in the KHL, generally on the wing, and ultimately led the league in plus/minus while scoring more than a point-per-game (6th overall in KHL scoring). He kept up the pace in the playoffs, and then followed that up with a point-per-game pace and even rating at the World Championships (once again, Thoresen was playing top line minutes – he finished even on a Norwegian team outscored 27-to-14). For good measure, he picked up five points in four Olympic contests.
2010-11, KHL: 54GP – 29G – 37A – 66PTS, +21 (Playoffs: 21GP – 3G – 15A – 18PTS, +11). The league’s second-leading goal and point scorer, Thoresen was a key member of the KHL’s playoff champions, leading the league in both assists and plus/minus in the post-season. He also started seeing time at center, winning 55.4 percent of faceoffs taken.
2011-12, KHL: 45GP – 15G – 26A – 41PTS, +22 (Playoffs: 15GP – 2G – 4A – 6PTS, +2). A disappointing KHL season saw Thoresen finish just outside the league’s top-10 in scoring. He was superb at the World Championships, though – he finished second in tournament scoring with 18 points, just one back of tournament leader Evgeni Malkin.
2012-13, KHL: 9GP – 6G – 7A – 13PTS, +7. The KHL’s second-leading scorer in the early going.
KHL Career Summary: Between the playoffs and the regular season, Thoresen’s played 214 games, scored 83 times and picked up 215 points. His plus/minus sits at plus-110 and he’s won 54.8 percent of the 2052 faceoffs he’s taken.
Thoresen has repeatedly expressed an interest in coming back to North America, as long as someone’s willing to give him a one-way contract. For a 28-year old heart-and-soul utility player who can line up anywhere on the ice, kills penalties, wins faceoffs, plays a physical game and has scored at a point-per-game pace over three (and a bit) KHL seasons… it seems like a reasonable gamble to me.
The lockout means that it wasn’t going to happen this year. But I continue to think it should happen soon.