New York Rangers 2010 2nd round pick Christian Thomas surpassed the 50 goal mark last night as the Oshawa Generals played the Kingston Frontenacs, and did so in style, adding numbers 51 and 52 for the hat-trick. Ethan Werek, another Rangers prospect, scored for the Frontenacs, but the real story is Thomas, who is the first Rangers prospect to score 50 goals in the CHL since Nigel Dawes did it with the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League in 2005. By reaching 50 goals, Thomas and his father, Steve Thomas, become the first father-son combination to both score at least 50 goals in a single season in the OHL.
As I mentioned yesterday, Thomas has been given high praise by the coaches of the Eastern Conference of the OHL. With the hat trick last night, Thomas now leads the whole OHL in goal scoring, an unbelievably impressive task as a 19 year old. Joey Hishon, Austin Watson, Jared Knight, and Dalton Smith, all forwards in the OHL who were drafted above Thomas, are all significantly behind Thomas in scoring, so it looks more and more like the Gordie Clark found yet another steal in the 2nd round. On one hand, yes, scoring in Canadian Junior leagues doesn’t always translate to success at the NHL level, but there are many reasons to be optimistic about Thomas. Nigel Dawes did put up 50, but that was as an over-ager. After a player becomes 20, he has to sign a contract with the team who owns his rights or else he becomes a free agent. However, OHL players can play in the league for a final season if the team wishes. Thus, Dawes was a 20 year old playing against 16-19 year olds. His 50 goals are still relevant but not nearly as much as a regular aged OHL player doing it.
Thomas’ size is the only thing that will really stop him from becoming a stud in the NHL, but Gordie Clark doesn’t believe it will be a problem. Size is a highly overrated attribute at the NHL level, because success is determined by how you utilize your size instead of size itself. We saw guys like Dawes and Prucha get knocked around, while Ryan Callahan, as Clark previously stated, “thinks he’s 6 foot 3.” And then we saw Brian Boyle last season, who got knocked off the puck every time he got it despite being the biggest guy on the ice. Thomas might only be 5 foot 9, but scouts of all teams agreed that he is not at all afraid to go into the dirty areas. Yes, his most mesmerizing talent is hit rocket of a wrist shot, but he equally is proficient at taking abuse in the slot in order to collect garbage and also is perfectly capable of digging it out of the corners. Thomas’ father, Steve, was the same way, as he scored over 400 goals in his career and was known for his forechecking despite being under 6 feet tall. If you look at the type of players the Rangers have drafted since Clark took over as scouting director, they go more for character players than for glamour. That’s why they stook Stepan while Rangers fans were pleading him to take Kirill Petrov. That’s why they took Kreider when the consensus pick was Jordan Schroeder. The Rangers know that Thomas has incredible speed and a great shot, but Clark is convinced that it’s Thomas’ character and drive that will make the difference. Those are the characteristics that made Steve Thomas succeed. Those are the characteristics that help Martin St. Louis and Brian Gionta become top line players despite their size. You look at a guy like Ryan Callahan, who truly has mediocre offensive skills, but is a 25 goal scorer regardless, and you look at guys like Nik Zherdev and Erik Christensen who have all the skill in the world but not the brain and/or heart to utilize it. All the skill in the world means nothing unless you know how to use it on a game-by-game basis. Thomas has great speed and arguably the best shot out of all prospects in the CHL right now, so when you combine that with the attitude that Thomas has, and I’m fully convinced the Rangers will have a pure scoring threat in a few years in Thomas. Here are some highlights of Thomas from last season. You’ll see his ability to rip the puck from far out but also his ability to do the dirty work in order to score as well.