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2019 NHL Draft prospect profile: Lassi Thomson has all the pieces, but some assembly is required

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One of the most talented defencemen in the draft class will need a bit of refinement before he’s ready to join the NHL ranks.

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After playing last season in the Finnish Junior hockey system for the U20 squad of Ilves and suiting up with the National U18 Team, Lassi Thomson joined the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League.

He had quite a successful season with Kelowna. He played in the team’s top-four and recorded 41 points in 63 games — a more than respectable total for a defenceman considering his rookie status, the adjustments he had to make coming from Finland, and the fact that Kelowna was a low-scoring team.

Birthplace: Tampere, FIN
Shoots: Right
Position: Defence
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 185 lbs.
Team: Kelowna Rockets

What allowed the Finnish blue-liner to make such an impact in his first year is that he possesses some of the best raw tools of any defender in the draft.

EliteProspects

He is an exceptional skater, accelerating past opponents in a couple of strides and leaving them behind to chase in vain while he makes his way across both blue lines. Even after establishing a top speed, it seems like Thomson can always gain an extra step with a quick crossover to catch opposing defenders off-guard. He is also very agile. He cuts away from traffic with ease while managing to retain his speed and is strong on his edges.

Some of the following sequence of Thomson moving in the offensive zone almost looks like figure-skating.

Thomson wears #2 with the Kelowna Rockets

After picking up the puck, he opens his hips to turn his back to the opponent and protect the puck, then separates with a step and dances from his left inside edge to his right. He scans the ice, fakes attacking wide, picks up speed with a crossover, and switches his weight to his left, riding his right inside edge, cutting back inside before abruptly bringing the puck over to shoot on net.

The moves are exaggerated, but it gives a glimpse into what Thomson can do on skates. He is also just as good a backward skater, with great lateral movements that allow him to be extra-aggressive between blue lines to counter opposing rushes.

On top of his skating, he is a smooth, shifty puck-handler. He can softly receive pucks on his backhand or forehand outside his body and deflect them up in a position to attack, then as he makes his way up the ice combine fakes inside his puck-shuffling to open up space for himself.

Thomson is one of the defencemen with the most potential as a puck-carrier in the 2019 draft class because of the above abilities and his poise in possession.

He loves to handle the puck. His quick feet and balance in possession allow him to separate from forecheckers and push his team’s offence. He also isn’t afraid to challenge the high opposing forwards trying to cut him off in his zone exits by extending his reach to protect the puck from pokechecks and squeaking around them.

He has an innate understanding of how to gain separation in possession. He knows he has to turn opponents’ feet if he wants to gain a step on them and uses effective fakes to do so.

Even if a lot of his controlled exits are attempted via carry-outs, he can just as well shake the forecheck and make a tape-to-tape pass or send the puck into space for a teammate to skate on to.

From Mitch Brown’s CHL tracking project

His talent as a puck-mover is reflected in his advanced stats. In the sample tracked, he was one of the defenceman attempting the most controlled breakouts and successfully managing them. The same was seen for controlled offensive-zone entries.

His ability to defend the rush is also illustrated in the graphics. His aggressive approach and mobility allow him to thwart opposing carry-in attempts at a higher rate than most defencemen in the CHL.

But the stats are also telling of Thomson’s tendencies. He plays high-event hockey with often a lot of chances for both teams when he is on the ice. This is mostly caused by his weaknesses in his own zone. He tends to overplay opposing forwards with his body down low and doesn’t use his stick enough. His awareness and positioning could also be better, and he will have to learn to manage the time he has with possession. He sometimes can try an extra move on a forechecker, which closes his passing options and forces even more opposing pressure onto him.

A cleaner defensive game would definitely help his transition ability shine. Reducing defensive-zone time and chaos helps the team as a whole break out in controlled ways.

In the offensive zone, Thomson isn’t the most creative passer, but it should come with time as he is elusive on the blue line and can freely move around to find passing lanes to teammates. He also possesses a hard slapshot that he isn’t afraid to blast on net when he has the necessary room, which makes him a useful weapon on the man advantage.

But once again, he shines the most with his skating ability, which allows him to get inside the defensive box and release from the slot, like in the sequence below.

Here, the defenceman attracts a defender to himself, switches his skates, protects the puck, and steps into the slot to release.

Rankings (not all rankings are final)

Button/TSN: #57
Dobber Prospects: #43
Elite Prospects: #35
Future Considerations: #48
Hockey Prospect: #28
McKenzie/TSN: #35
NHL Central Scouting: #15 (NA Skaters)
Pronman/The Athletic: #42

Thomson is mostly ranked in the second round of the draft due to the holes in his game, added to the fact that he is one of the oldest players in the 2019 class with a September 24 birthday; had he been born nine days earlier he would have been part of the 2018 selection. But even considering those factors, it wouldn’t be very surprising to have a team jump at the occasion to select him as early as the middle of the first round.

He was in his first season in North America and has a rare skill set. If he can continue to develop his defensive play and become smarter in his breakout attempts, he could play in a team’s top-four in the NHL and become a huge contributor to the offence via his transition game and ability to jump up into the play from the blue line.