In the second-round of the NHL Entry Draft in June of 2010, the New York Rangers selected Oshawa Generals forward Christian Thomas with the 40th overall pick. Thomas—the son of former NHLer Steve Thomas—entered the draft ranked 69th on the final ISS NHL Draft Rankings among North American Skaters. The Rangers decided to draft the right-winger after he scored 41 goals and 66 points in 64 games with the Generals in his draft campaign (both the goals and points totals were team leading numbers).
Thomas was invited to play for the Rangers in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament just three months later in September, and after participating he was sent back to the Generals in the Ontario Hockey League.
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound, forward, wasn’t on all Rangers fans radars when he was initially drafted. But after his 2010-11 season performance, that would quickly change.
2010-11 Season, and then training camp
By the conclusion of October, 2010, Thomas had already recorded 11 goals and 19 points in only 12 games. Then in November, Thomas had two multi-goal games, one in which he scored a hat-trick and six points, the other two goals and four points. Before the New Year (2011), Thomas scored 25 goals and 45 points in 33 games, and was on pace to have a major breakout season.
When the OHL regular season was over, Thomas was fourth in the league in points with 99 in 66 games, and second in the league in goals scored with 54. Thomas went on to score nine goals and 19 points in 10 playoff games, and all of sudden his name was buzzing as a dark horse to make the Rangers 2011-12 roster out of training camp. Thomas was even placed on the OHL Season All-Stars for his impressive season (third team).
It was no surprise that the Rangers’ signed the OHL star to an entry-level deal shortly after his season ended, and then invited him to join the prospect team in Traverse City for another go-around.
“It was a great experience having the opportunity to measure myself against top NHL prospects,” Thomas said of playing in the Tournament.
Thomas also said that the competition level was one of many things that he took away from the experience. He went on to explain that his past opportunity to play in the Tournament helped him to prepare for this one. The Rangers eventually finished in second-place for the Tournament.
The 19-year-old then took part in training camp with his NHL club, and Blueshirt fans even received a glimpse of the highly-talented winger in a preseason game against the New Jersey Devils. It was Thomas’s first bit of NHL action, of course, and as you would expect, he realized several differences from the usual OHL competition.
“The biggest difference that I noticed (from OHL to NHL) was the speed, size, and strength of each player I competed against,” he said. “I found there was less time to make plays and carry the puck.”
He went on to add that playing with “proven NHLers” made the game more “exciting” to play.
Before Thomas was returned to his club in the OHL, he sat down with the Rangers’ coaches and received some pointers and a few things to work on. Aside from asking him to continue his impressive production with the Generals, John Tortorella and company also said “to work more on give and go’s”, which a hard-working Thomas has made sure to do.
Unlike his huge 2010-11 performance, Thomas struggled when he first arrived in Oshawa and re-entered the line-up. The Toronto, Ontario, native had a tough time getting the puck past opposing goaltenders, which led to rumors that he had sustained an injury during the Traverse City Tournament. It took him five games to record his first point, which, as one would expect, was a goal.
And despite hitting a small hot-streak after his first goal of the year, Thomas had just five goals and 10 points in his first 13 games of the season. Compared to his 19 points in 12 games start to last season, Thomas was off to an unexpected cold-streak. Things got worse when the forward was suspended for 10 games by the OHL for a high-sticking incident in a game against the Saginaw Spirit on October 23.
Thomas commented on his slow start to the season by saying, “Yes, I got off to a slow offensive start, but I was encouraged by my coaching staff that I was doing a lot of good things. It was a minor slow time in a typical season, where the puck didn’t seem to go in.”
Thomas added that although the puck wasn’t finding the back of the net for him, he was still contributing offensively through scoring chances and shots on goal.
His suspension lasted until November 18, and after failing to score in his initial return to the line-up, Thomas, with some help, discovered his scoring touch from a year ago. The speedy winger re-kindled his goal- and point-scoring ability, collecting 17 points in his first eight games back in Oshawa’s line-up.
Thomas explained that during his suspension he received some advice from a two-time NHL 40-goal scorer to help him with his struggles.
“I discussed a number of things with my Dad and came to the realization that I wasn’t going to the net and competing in the tough areas of the ice,” he said. “With a few minor changes and a new confidence level, I got back to my scoring ways.”
Thomas and his hot-streak entered a new form of competition at Team Canada’s Selection Camp for the 2012 World Junior Championships in Calgary, Alberta. After a few days of scrimmaging and tryouts, the team made its final cuts on December 14. One of the final names on the list was Christian Thomas.
“I was very disappointed having been let go because this was a dream of mine to play in the World Junior Championship for Canada,” said Thomas. “The coaches mentioned that it was a tough decision and wished me good luck with Oshawa.”
He added that he felt he could’ve made a difference had he made the club, which won a Bronze Medal at the tournament.
When he returned to the Generals line-up, it appeared he still hadn’t completely shaken off the unfortunate final cut. Thomas failed to score in his first two games back with his team, but was soon allowed to rest with Holiday Break pausing the OHL’s action for a week.
As soon as the break ended, it was back to work for Thomas and the Generals, who at the time were not a top-8 seed in the Eastern Conference. In six games since the Break, Oshawa is 5-1-0, and just two points out of eighth-place.
Thomas can be thanked for the team’s streak. He has scored in all but one of the six games, and has collected five goals and 10 points. Despite the slow start to the season, his current hot-streak has carried him to 18 goals, 19 assists, and 37 points in 29 games so far this season. Remarkably, his goal and point totals both rank second-highest on the Generals scoring stats 41 games into the season.
With a little over 25 games remaining in the regular season, there should be enough time for Thomas to once again reach the 30-goal and possibly 70-point plateaus. Of course, no one has higher expectations for Thomas than himself.
“My expectations for myself are to be a good leader and make a difference every time I’m on the ice,” he said. “My expectations for my team are to make the playoffs and try to win the Memorial Cup.”
Regardless of how many more goals he scores, or how many points he finishes with this year; Thomas turns 20-years-old in May, making him eligible to join the pro-game next season. The Rangers will give him an opportunity to make their roster out of camp in September, but there is a good chance that Thomas begins his professional career in the AHL with the Connecticut Whale.
While he understands that the NHL isn’t a guarantee next season, Thomas still has his eyes set on only one roster next October.
“My ultimate goal for next year is to play for the Rangers and do whatever is necessary to fulfill my dream to play in the NHL.”
Follow Christian Thomas on twitter @cpt27
Follow Nick on twitter for more coverage of the Rangers prospects and the Whale @NickPerri_SNYRB
Email Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org