03/31/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak
One of the most unexplainable stories of decline in recent sports history is the story of Jonathan Cheechoo. Cheechoo went from leading the NHL in goal scoring in the 2005/2006 season to being unable to find a roster spot in the league less than 5 years later.
Cheechoo was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in 1998. The beginning of his career was as good as one could ask for, scoring 173 total points in two seasons with Belleville of the OHL after being drafted by the Sharks. He would make his professional debut in 2000, with the Sharks AHL affiliate in Kentucky. Cheechoo racked up 112 points in his first two seasons in the AHL.
He made his NHL debut in San Jose in the 2002/2003 season. In his first full season the following year, Cheechoo scored 28 goals. Following the lockout that wiped out the NHL's 2004/2005 season, Cheechoo had the finest season of his professional career. Cheechoo won the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2006, leading the NHL with 56 goals. He followed that up with a strong 2006/2007 season, netting 37 goals.
It was after that season that the mysterious decline in Cheechoo's play began. He scored 23 goals in 2007/2008, and followed that up with just 12 goals in 2008/2009. Prior to the 2009 regular season, he was traded to Ottawa. Cheechoo scored on 5 goals in 61 games for the Senators that season, which would be his last in the NHL. He would play the next 3 seasons in the AHL, before moving to the KHL in 2013/2014 where is he still playing this season.
So how does a player go from being the NHL's top goal scorer to being out of the league? Cheechoo sustained a concussion in the 2006/2007 season and it's believed that's what led to his decline. But many players have sustained concussions and returned to the same level of play. He never missed large portions of that season. He received tryouts with other NHL teams after the 2009/2010 season, but couldn't earn a roster spot.
The story of Jonathan Cheechoo is one of decline and mystery.
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