There should have been no doubt in anyone’s mind that St. Louis Blues first-round selection Robert Thomas would make the final cut. The 20th overall pick in the 2017 draft will be representing Canada at the 2018 World Junior Championships in Buffalo. The tournament is now less than a week away, and Thomas is an integral ingredient for what Canada deems a recipe for gold.
Thomas is one of two OHL London Knights to be named to the final roster for Canada (the other being Alex Formenton). The fact Thomas is currently leading the Knights in scoring pretty much made him a shoo-in for selection. In 27 games this season, he has scored 20 goals and 26 assists for a whopping 46 points. Furthermore, it is about how he scored these points. Of those 20 goals, eight of them have been power-play tallies. Thomas also has a single shorthanded marker and three game-winners as well.
Production With the Knights Guaranteed Thomas a Spot
The finest outpouring that Thomas has had this season was an Oct. 27 showdown against the Flint Firebirds. The Knights outdid Flint by a score of 8-2. More importantly, Thomas had an almost staggering six points out of the possible eight. Of those six points, four of them were goals and he scored in every period – one in the first, a pair in the second, and a fourth goal in the third. Thomas’s assists came off of tallies by Formenton and Billy Moskal.
Five games later, he would score another hat trick against Flint on Nov. 10. Once again Thomas would have a goal in each period. This time the Knights did a 9-0 routing of the Firebirds. Thomas would also tie a career high in the regular season as a plus-5.
Offensive Production Is a Continuation From Last Season
This outpouring in 2017-18 shows that there is no sign of Thomas slowing down. Rather, it is a continuation of the offensive success that he had with London last year. He registered exactly a point per game during 2016-17 with 16 goals and 50 assists in 66 games.
But this is not what is most key. Thomas’s goal, assist and point totals did not place him among any of the OHL’s top 10 players for those categories. However, where he did place in the top 10 speaks to his capabilities as a two-way player—one who is dependable in both zones. Thomas’s superb plus-41 rating tied him for seventh-best in the league.
Canada needs a player who is defensively responsible like Thomas. While Canada’s offensive production is certainly high-flying, and typically is at World Junior tournaments, they need a player who can be interchangeable between that type of offense and keeping himself grounded when the team needs him to be. Thomas fits that role to a T.
Memorial Cup and OHL Championship Experience
Let us not be remiss in forgetting that Thomas has previous championship experience as well. Sure, argue as much as you want whether that truly matters or not. Does having previous experience with winning matter at all? The truth is that it does. There are such moments in life known as pinnacles. The culmination of a pinnacle is an experience not bestowed upon just anyone, unless you have had the opportunity to experience it yourself.
One of the most well-respected hockey tournaments in the world is the Memorial Cup. During his rookie season with London, Thomas was able to add one of those to his resume. The offense was not there so much for him in 2015-16, as he had three goals and 12 assists in just 40 regular-season games. Not necessarily paltry, but decent at best.
— BrentLaleCTV (@BrentLaleCTV) April 1, 2016
However, the championship experience was most certainly there. Thomas appeared in 15 of the Knights’ 18 postseason games as they won the OHL championship, the J. Ross Robertson Cup. In the process, he had a goal and four assists.
Then when it was time for the Memorial Cup, Thomas played in all four tournament games and picked up an assist. Thomas was one of just three out of a possible five Knights rookies to play in the tournament.
What Will Thomas Bring to Canada?
Thomas covers seemingly every facet of a high-quality hockey player for this Team Canada squad. Keep in mind that he is also the Knights’ team captain, so you have that leadership aspect too. Canada typically assembles a collection of talented young men on its rosters at these tournaments, but you want to make sure that some of them are difference-makers. Robert Thomas is a difference maker. His progression from his rookie season in the OHL until now is everything you would want to see in a player’s development at this level. The St. Louis Blues had certainly taken note when they selected him.
— TSN Hockey (@TSNHockey) December 14, 2017
Another interesting tidbit about Thomas is the shooting accuracy that he will bring to Canada. We mentioned already that he has a remarkable 20 goals in his 27 games for London this year. Well, those 20 goals came from just 77 shots. You can do the math – well over a quarter of his shots are finding the back of the twine.
We must take into consideration too any sort of chemistry between Thomas and Formenton that could carry over from London and into the Buffalo tournament. Seven times this year the two have combined to produce a Knights goal. The familiarity with one another could bode most well for Canada.
The Bottom Line
Put it this way: without a Robert Thomas on their roster, Canada’s chances for a gold medal are noticeably diminished. It is not that one player makes or breaks a hockey club. The greatest of all champions preach that knowledge, that championships are won and lost as a team effort. But it is the other side of the coin that applies in this situation – all the things that Canada would be lacking without having Thomas in their lineup.
A solid performance at the 2018 World Juniors by Thomas seems inevitable. Frankly, it would bolster his stock value for years to come with the St. Louis Blues. Thomas is arguably another Alexander Steen, another Paul Stastny, that the Blues pridefully (and deservedly so) have in their system. Considering that both of those players are now in their 30s, the Blues organization and their fans are going to have their eyes fixed keenly upon Thomas all tournament long. They will want to see what this future Blue is capable of.
But the Blues can wait. Sorry, Blues. Right now this 6-foot, 190-pound center has a gold medal to win for his country.
All the 2018 World Junior Championship Team Information:
Czech Republic — Team Preview — Roster
Russia — Team Preview — Roster
Belarus — Team Preview — Roster
Canada — Team Preview — Roster
Denmark — Team Preview — Roster
Slovakia — Team Preview — Roster
All Your THW 2018 World Junior Championship Coverage
General Manager of the Buffalo Beauts (NWHL). Hockey history writer “The Hockey Writers”. Credentialed media for the NHL Combine and 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships in Buffalo, NY, USA. Born and raised in Buffalo, NY. Lifelong hockey fan for over 40 years. Proponent of the women’s game.