Every year the New York Rangers have at least one top-flight prospect that rockets through the ranks of popularity and becomes a fan-favorite before he even steps onto training camp ice.
This year that prospect is Christian Thomas, and for good reason. His shot allowed him and his father to become the only father-son duo to both score 50 goals at the OHL level. An accomplishment he talked about in an exclusive interview with Blueshirt Banter just a few weeks ago.
"To become the first father some duo to score 50 goals was huge," Thomas said. "I actually wasn't aware of it until I scored the 50th goal, but for me to be with my dad in a historic thing like that was awesome."
His shot wasn't the only thing that impressed the New York Rangers brass, his vision and hockey IQ helped him notch 54 goals and 45 assists for 99 points in 66 games. That doesn't even include a fantastic 19-point (nine goals) performance in just 10 playoff games.
So what is his chance of making the team this year? Join me after the jump to find out.
Obviously this early in the year there aren't many true hockey performances to take into account when looking at a prospects' chance to crack an NHL roster. In Thomas' case, however, we do have an impressive showing at the Hockey Canada Developmental camp, where Thomas scored a goal in the Red-White scrimmage as he tried to make the Canadian World Junior Squad.
Aside from that camp, there haven't been too many hockey opportunities for him this offseason. That all will change, of course, when Traverse City kicks off in September.
"It's a level above a junior or a college team but the hockey is not at the AHL level," he said. "It's better than the team they have been playing on. They've been good on their team but now they've taken the best players off teams and they put them on one team to play against another NHL team that has done that. So it is a step up, and it does give you a little bit of an idea maybe positively or negatively on how a guy handles the next level. Maybe they weren't passing the puck as well as you thought they were, maybe their skating was off. Certainly you don't bump anybody, but it is a measuring stick."
Basically, what Clark is saying is: The tournament gives you a good measuring stick on how a player reacts moving up to the next level, but you can't use the performance from one tournament to judge his NHL future. That works both ways. If a prospect blows the roof off, sure, you take a harder look at him in training camp, but you don't guarantee him a job. Same goes with a prospect who has a poor showing. Sometimes you need to take int he overall picture.
For Thomas a good showing at Traverse city will go a long way towards helping him make the Rangers out of camp, obviously.
As it stands now, you would have to consider Thomas an outside shot to make the team. There is currently a plethora of forwards on the team, including a few the Rangers might not have room for. Erik Christensen and Mats Zuccarello both don't know if they will have NHL jobs this year. And while Christensen seems like the most likely candidate to see extensive AHL time, and if he does it will probably be to make way for Zuccarello (who still has a vast amount of untaped potential).
Next year, however, is a different story. Sean Avery, Brandon Prust, Ruslan Fedotenko and Christensen are all unrestricted free agents. Wojtek Wolski is also a free agent next season, although he will be a RFA. Now it's likely that the Rangers will want to retain Prust, but this might be the end of Avery, Fedotenko and Christensen as Rangers. It might even be the end for Wolski too, depending on his year. That would leave plenty of room for Thomas to make the team.
That doesn't completely kill his chances at making the team this year, but it does explain why he is considered to be a dark horse. It would seem that another year seasoning his game at the OHL level might help him become even more dangerous next year.
Anyway, thoughts on all this guys?