Jonathan Cheechoo, the only player in Sharks history to win an NHL goal-scoring title, officially called it a career and announced his retirement on Tuesday. The Sharks will recognize Cheechoo's career on March 24, prior to puck drop in a game against the Calgary Flames.
"I have been privileged to be able to reach my goals and to play the game that I love," Cheechoo said in a statement. "Hockey has taken me from Moose Factory (Ont.) to San Jose and many places around the world."
The first member of the Moose Cree First nation to play in the NHL, Cheechoo grew up over 500 miles north of Toronto in Moose Factory. His talent was apparent at an early age, and his community raised $15,000 to send him to tournaments and camps in Toronto to work with professional coaches, according to a 2007 ESPN The Magazine Profile.
"With the tremendous support of his immediate family and his extended Cree First Nations family, Jonathan completed a remarkable journey from one of North America's remote locations to an elite National Hockey League player," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said in a statement.
San Jose drafted Cheechoo in the second round of the NHL Draft in 1998, and he made his professional debut with the Kentucky Thoroughblades, then the Sharks' AHL affiliate, two years later. In 2002, the 22-year-old Cheechoo made his NHL debut, scoring nine goals in 66 games with San Jose.
He broke out with 28 more the following season, en route to the Sharks' first appearance in a Conference Final in franchise history. In 2005-06, after a lockout and a big trade, Cheechoo truly burst onto the scene.
That year, he scored 56 goals, still a Sharks franchise record, and won the NHL's Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's top goal-scorer. 49 of those came in the 58 games after San Jose acquired center Joe Thornton in a trade with the Boston Bruins, with whom Cheechoo developed immediate chemistry.
Cheechoo scored five hat tricks that season, including one in the season's penultimate game to effectively clinch the goal-scoring title over Jaromir Jagr. That remains most in a single year in Sharks history, as do his 13 multi-goal games. He's still the only player in franchise history to score 50 goals in a single season.
He followed that up with 37 goals in 2006-07, but injuries began to mount. The following offseason, Cheechoo underwent double sports hernia surgery, and was never really the same.
His goal-scoring totals declined to 23 in 2007-08, then 12 in 2008-09, as he continued to miss time with injury. In Sept. 2009, Cheechoo was traded to the Ottawa Senators as part of a deal for fellow former 50-goal-scorer Dany Heatley.
He scored a career-low five goals in his one season in Ottawa, splittig time in the AHL before the Senators released him in the spring of 2010. Cheechoo spent the next three seasons in the AHL, including one with the Sharks' then-affiliate in Worcester, before plying his trade in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) from 2013-2017.
"His hard work and persistence made him one of the most beloved players in Sharks history. Off the ice, you would be hard-pressed to find a more humble and respectful individual. We congratulate him and his family on a fantastic hockey career."
Cheechoo retires as San Jose's sixth-leading goal-scorer (165), eighth-leading scorer (291 points), fifth in power play goals (62), and the franchise-leader in hat tricks.