Robert Thomas is the latest in a long line of quality prospects to come out of the London Knights of the OHL. A smart and skilled two-way centre, Thomas has shot up draft rankings this year with a solid season in which he finished with 66 points in as many games.
- Age: 17 – July 2nd, 1999
- Birthplace: Aurora, ON, CAN
- Frame: 6’0″/187 lbs
- Position: C
- Handedness: Right
- Draft Year Team: London Knights (OHL)
Thomas is a smart two-way, instinctive center. He is a solid skater and bursts from a standing position, possessing the leg strength to accelerate quickly and good lateral quickness. He’s a solid puck handler, who can pull off a deke to create an offensive chance. He is usually safe with the puck, however, reverting to a dump-and-chase strategy as the game situation changes. For a smaller player, he’s very aggressive in the corners, chasing down opponents on the forecheck, and he isn’t afraid to initiate physical contact against bigger players. He works hard along the boards, working the cycle well and doing a good job of controlling the puck under pressure. His passes are accurate and strong, allowing his teammates more time to make plays or get shots off. His confidence is also showing in his decision-making ability with the puck. He has great hand-eye coordination for corralling bouncing passes or tipping pucks. His shot isn’t overly dangerous, but it is hard, and he shoots smartly reading the goalie. He sees the ice well as he finds his open man and then skates hard for the open ice knowing he will get the puck back for a good scoring chance. In his defensive zone he plays a smart game, and utilizes some solid poke checking to break up plays. Despite being a solid defensive performer and offensive contributor, his best asset is his prowess on faceoffs where he utilizes a strong stick and quick reflexes to out muscle his opponents. He’s a tenacious and talented player, but his lack of physical strength is likely to hold him out of the first round of the draft.
The Draft Analyst:
Playing for a perennial powerhouse in London has more advantages than disadvantages, but in Thomas’s case, you wish he saw more time than he did. When he was on the ice, however, this kid was outstanding in all three zones. One of the 2017 draft’s most dangerous players from a static position, meaning he doesn’t need time and space to carve you up.
The London Knights, historically, don’t give out ice time to young players very easily. But Thomas has already worked his way towards top 6 ice time and is averaging close to a point per game for the first place Knights. He is a highly skilled offensive pivot who uses speed and creativity with the puck to create time and space to work the middle of the ice. Offensively, he has a very high ceiling and that’s why he’s slowly gaining momentum as a first round candidate come June.
Robert Thomas is listed at anywhere between 5’10” and 6’0″ by different scouting services, which may be an indication of how difficult it is for scouts to wrap their heads around the fact that such a tenacious player can come in such a relatively small package. Thomas isn’t exactly what you’d describe as gritty, but he’s very strong along the boards, and doesn’t shy away from contact with players that are much larger than he is.
There isn’t one particular asset in his toolkit that sticks out in particular, but his strongest attribute is his ability to make quick, crisp passes under pressure and set up open teammates. Thomas also has an above-average shot and he uses his hockey sense to place his shots well. His skating is good, but not so good as to justify the frequency with which he chooses to dump the puck into the offensive zone, something he’ll have to learn to cut back on if he wants to be a consistent contributor at the NHL level.
Thomas finished the season having scored at a point-per-game pace, which is doubly impressive given that he played second-line minutes for the Knights and scored over 70% of his points at even-strength. Considering how little Thomas played at evens relative to his peers, that’s a fantastic sign. Thomas was fifth among first-time draft-eligible OHL players in even-strength points-per-game, but 30th among those players in even-strength ice-time, indicating that his boxcar stats may be underselling his true offensive potential.
Thomas is frequently compared to Bo Horvat by a number of scouts, but it’s worth noting that Thomas actually exhibits superior skating and playmaking ability when compared to Horvat’s in his draft year. The comparison certainly makes sense, at least on a superficial level, given that Thomas also loves to use the toe-drag move as he barrels towards the net. He’s also a little overrated defensively, much like Horvat has been throughout his career, although I somehow doubt that’s what scouts have in mind when they compare the two, however.
pGPS paints a picture of a player with a wide range of outcomes. Steve Yzerman is far and away Thomas’ most impressive statistical match, but on the other end of the spectrum, we’ve got players like Sean Avery, Daniel Carcillo, and Derek MacKenzie. Thomas has an expected success percentage of 22.7%, and an expected production rate of 43.9 points per season, indicating that his most likely career assignment if he makes the NHL is a middle-six centre. Thomas is a legitmate prospect with considerable upside, but given that under a quarter of his statistical matches played over 200 games in the NHL he’s also a considerable risk, which is part of the reason why our consensus has him ranked a bit lower than a number of other publications. Based on his ice-time and even-strength scoring rate, however, my feeling is that Thomas is the player who’s low ranking is the most likely to burn us in a few years from now.