The story of Jonathan Cheechoo was a fairytale one. San Jose Sharks selected him as the 29th pick in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. Four years later, he made his NHL debut.
The start to his NHL career was nothing spectacular. He scored nine goals and recorded seven assists in 66 games. But then something happened. In the 2003-04 season, he recorded 47 points. And then, after a lockout year, he made the 2005-06 season a memorable one for the Sharks fans.
Jonathan Cheechoo scored 56 goals to win the Rocket Richard Trophy. How did it happen? How did the 25-year-old come from basically nowhere to win one of the most prestigious awards in the NHL?
Well, Joe Thornton arrived in San Jose mid-season, and from there, he recorded 92 points in 58 games. He won the Hart Trophy with 123 points overall after playing his first half of the season with the Boston Bruins.
Joe Thornton’s first point with the Sharks came on December 2, 2005. After that, Cheechoo scored 49 of his 56 goals.
Cheechoo scored 37 goals the following year, and in the 2007-08 season, he scored 23. He followed that with a 12-goal season. And then, basically nothing. He played some games with Ottawa Senators in 2010 but only scored five goals. And then he left the NHL, never to return.
Jonathan Cheechoo spent the rest of his hockey career in the AHL and KHL, playing with teams such as Peokira Riverman, Medcvescak Zagreb, and Slovan Bratislava.
Cheechoo was called a one-hit wonder, and he didn’t have the legacy career most people thought he would after that fantastic season back in 2005. He’s, however, still some of a cult legend with the Sharks, and some fans still rock his name on their backs today.
Cheechoos’ career ended in 2017 after four years of playing in the KHL. His legacy goes on, however. Speaking with ESPN back in 2019, he said it’s “pretty cool” to see fans rocking his name even today.
“I played here for a long time, but it’s neat to see that the fans still remember and how many of them actually have a Cheechoo jersey. It’s pretty cool, that’s for sure. When I meet them, they’re pretty excited. I think I was a fan favorite here. You always hear one or two [Cheechoo] train whistles. They cheered me on when I was here, and seeing them now is really cool.”
Jonathan Cheechoo said that injuries held back his career. His Rocket Richard Trophy-winning season was the last full season he played.
“Everyone loses a step eventually. For me, it was my hernias, my legs, my knees … everything added up eventually. It was harder to train the way you need to in order to play at that level. It was good to relax at one point. I took half a year off during the 2012 lockout. I had more time to let my body heal. I hadn’t done that since early in my career when I had about six months off for some reason, and I just went home and hunted. Getting that time, I felt great again. Played in the AHL and then went overseas, and never had injury problems again until my last season.”
He doesn’t look back in anger, though. Cheechoo said he was in a good place about his career.
“I had a great career. I enjoyed it. I never thought I’d make it from Moose Factory, but I made it, and that’s the highlight. Playing my first game was the moment I realized that I had realized all my dreams. I lined up against Brett Hull my first shift. I didn’t know if I should ask him for an autograph or not. I think I slashed him instead.”