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2017 NHL Draft prospect profile: Robert Thomas has top-six upside

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With high-end vision and an excellent defensive game, Robert Thomas might be worth moving up for.

Kitchener Rangers v London Knights

The London Knights are powerhouse in both winning and prospect development. It’s not uncommon for lesser-used Knights to explode offensively post-draft, and Robert Thomas could be the next to do so.

Place of Birth: Aurora, Ontario
Shoots: Right
Position: Centre
Height: 6’0" Weight: 185 lbs

Thomas had a solid rookie year in the OHL, but really showcased his potential in the postseason. Then 16-years-old, Thomas jumped into second-line duty on the eventual Memorial Cup-winning squad, where he showed excellent defensive acumen and flashed high-end skill.

This year, Thomas increased his point totals by 51, landing at exactly 1.00 P/GP with 66 points. He spent most of his time on the second line, earning the trust of Dale Hunter and the Knights’s coaching staff.

The 6’ centre is lauded for his all-around game and strong defensive acumen, as well as his deft playmaking ability.

A proactive, yet methodical defensive player, Thomas is always on the right side of the puck. He sets him up below the puck, and continually applies pressure to force to the outside. He doesn’t waste time wth the puck in his own zone, which is usually beneficial, but does result in throwing away possession a little too often.

On the penalty kill, Thomas is equally as good. His attention to detail, whether that be through shutting down passing lanes or pouncing on a flat-footed pointman, is unique for a player his age. Whatever aggressiveness he lacks at even-strength isn’t evident on the penalty kill, as he shows no hesitation to flash separation speed for a chance.

Thomas is one of the best playmakers in the OHL. He routinely connects with high-skill passes, from both off the rush and flat-footed. Displaying a rare balance of patience and shiftiness, he’s able to create and exploit passing lanes with regularity. With an impressive 34 primary assists, and 0.33 primary assists per game at 5v5 (10th in the entire OHL), the statistics back this claim up.

He won’t overwhelm with strength, but he’s quick on his edges, a tremendous stickhandler, and protects the puck well with a low, strong centre of gravity. A true space creator, Thomas routinely uses his ability along the boards to draw attention to himself, and then locate an open teammate.

Yet to strike the appropriate balance between playmaking and shooting, Thomas sat under 2 SOG/GP. Just as he can wow with his vision, he will frustrate with his reluctance to shoot. His shoots lacks punch, but his release is quick, and he’s great at darting into open space.

A flashy, confident stickhandler with proficiency moving with width and on the backhand, Thomas dazzles. His stickhandling and speed allow him to turn any given rush in a highlight-reel moment. But given this ability, you wish he would enter the zone with control more often.

Rankings

HockeyProspect: 23
ISS: 21
Future Considerations: 33
McKeen’s: 15
NHL Central Scouting (North American Skaters): 22

Thoughts

If available, I think Thomas would likely be the Best Player Available at 25th overall. He’s among the most skilled and intelligent forwards in the draft class.

Thomas also fills a long-standing need for the Canadiens, being a capable centreman. . At 25th overall, it’s not fair to expect a high-end player, but given his toolkit a second line centre isn’t out of the question.

Thomas is the type who satisfies the coaches’s demands for responsibility, and the fans’s demands for flashiness. Given this, I doubt that Thomas will be available when the Habs pick 25th, but he would also be a target worth moving up for.

Statistics from Elite Prospects and Prospect Stats.