There is no saying that Brian Burke wonâ€™t find some way to improve the Leafs lot come draft day, but as things stand this very moment the Leafs will not be making a selection until the third round. Where the Leafs went off the board early last year taking the nameplate-less Jamie Devane in the third, in a draft marked by big-bodied rough-and-tumble types, chances are this season, Burke and his staff will be looking for a player with a more immediate skill set. Not only would this partially appease a disheartened fan base, the Leafs will enter the draft wary of saturating the cupboard with leviathan sized bodyguards.
Subsequently, while the Leafs are unlikely to be taking a player that has made serious waves when their first chance at the podium rolls by in the workmanlike bowels of the third round, they may well be looking for talented offensive steals.
One name in particular stands out as an excellent mid draft prospect whose name would look especially good in blue and white. Christian Thomas, son of popular ex-Leaf Steve â€œStumpyâ€ Thomas, experienced something of a breakout year on a meek Oshawa Generals side last season.
Having been a spare part in London, Thomas still put together impressive numbers as a 16 year old rookie in 2008-â€™09 splitting his season with the Knights and then Oshawa following the infamous Tavares trade. Going 8-17-25 in 59 games, Thomas would finish 28th in rookie scoring.
Entering his sophomore year in Oshawa, Thomas was looked upon to take up some of the offensive slack amid a meagre cast of supporting characters. Emerging not only as an offensive leader, but also a team leader in a trying season for the Generals, Thomas would finish atop the Oshawa scoring list with 41 goals and 25 assists in just 64 games.
Leaping from 114th mid-term to 69th amongst North American skaters in the ISS final draft rankings, Thomasâ€™ precipitous rise in draft stock (the third highest amongst the top 70 ranked skaters) was also supported by his OHL and World Under 18 accolades. Indeed, Thomas led the way in the 2009-â€™10 OHL Eastern Conference coachesâ€™ polls. Represented in five categories Thomas was voted the most improved player, Â as well as being named the conferences second most dangerous player in the goal area behind the Colts Bryan Cameron, the second best shot (also behind Cameron) and the second hardest shot behind Kingstonâ€™s Erik Gudbranson. Thomas was also named alongside three players including the excellent Tyler Toffoli, as the conferences third best stickhandler.
At the World under 18â€™s Thomas managed 3 points in 6 games in a disappointing display by Canada, but on limited ice time Thomas was singled out for his hard work ethic as a role player alongside Steven Shipley and Greg McKegg.
After selecting size over skill last year, the very definition of a Burke type player may well change this year in the name of a balanced prospect chart. The selections of Jerry Dâ€™Amigo and Nazem Kadri proved the Leafs scouts and Burke were not blinkered to small bodied players last season.
That will serve Thomas well; entering the draft listed at 5â€™9â€ and just 162 pounds (thatâ€™s two inches shorter and seven pounds lighter than Kadri entered last season), the Toronto native has enough height to play in the modern NHL but lacks adequate bulk and strength. While in the OHL, Thomas has been able to weather size issues with like-father-like-son tenacity and like Thomas senior, Christian may well have to adapt his game if he wants to make the next step.
Luckily for him, Thomas is one of the most multifaceted players available on draft day, a product of playing on a very mediocre team, his bread and butter of going hard to the net is supported by excellent speed and skating skills (what else would you expect of Stumpyâ€™s son) and a nose for goal. Coupled with decent hands, a high hockey IQ and cannon shot, Thomas has the potential to be a killer offensive force in junior the next couple of seasons.
Like dad, Christian has a chippy edge and has shown he isnâ€™t afraid to throw around what mass he has and furthermore he works hard of the puck all the time and knows how to make himself open. You could characterize Thomasâ€™ play as doing the simple things well, doing them consistently and doing them with fast, hard skating.
Significantly, observers around the OHL were saying Thomas was improving on a game-by-game basis as the season wore on. In that respect, the ceiling on Thomasâ€™ potential is hard to cap. Ranked 69th theoretically the General could be taken anywhere between the late 3rd to the 5th but considering Thomas brings a lot of upside to the table, chances someone takes a flyer at him are far from out of the question.
Long-term, the only thing holding Thomas back is size and pinpointing what kind of role he would fulfill at an elite level. One of the most complete players available; Thomas has yet to put up the kind of numbers to suggest he could handle top 6 duties in the NHL and lacks the size to be a pure energy third liner. While his game may well develop to something easier to pigeonhole or a trade may occur allowing Thomas to showcase his talents with greater support, what a team would be drafting in Thomas is a whole-lotta likeable skill, bloodlines and sense with only one standout year to his name.
Still, considering the kind of player Steve Thomas turned out having been undrafted, the mere fact Thomas junior will almost certainly go this summer suggests good things await the club who takes him.