The onslaught of injuries that plagued the Devil’s this season have led to several AHL call ups. Among the players we’ve seen are former regulars who didn’t make the cut at the start of the season like Steve Bernier and Peter Harrold, highly touted players and prospects like Reid Boucher, Joe Whitney, and retreads like Tim Sestito and Mark Fraser. These players have been serviceable in supplementing New Jersey’s roster depth, but not much else.
One player whose name has flown under the radar until recently is right wing Paul Thompson.
In his first year with the A-Devils, Thompson is having a breakout season in the AHL, currently leading the league with 21 goals in 39 games. He’s on pace to finish the season with 40 goals and 66 points, which would make him the first Devils minor leaguer to score at least 25 goals since Adam Henrique (2010-2011), and exceed 60 points since Petr Vrana (2007-2008).
It’s worth noting Thompson’s numbers are higher than anyone’s in New Jersey, and he’s already surpassed career-highs in goals and points since turning pro. A University of New Hampshire alumni, Thompson made his AHL debut in 2011, signing with the Wilkes-Barre Penguins, where he played 170 games over 4 seasons. Thompson registered 35 goals (20 goal season in 2012-2013) and 64 points overall with the Penguins. Last year, he was traded to the Springfield Falcons, where he had just four goals and eight points in 30 games.
As Tom Gulitti noted in one of his recent articles, Thompson’s productivity hasn’t gone unnoticed. He, along with fellow teammate Joe Whitney, will represent Albany in the AHL all-star game this year. With a battered, lethargic, underachieving offense whose inconsistencies are instrumental in New Jersey’s struggles this year, you have to think Lamoriello and Co. could strongly consider giving Thompson an opportunity if they haven’t already.
There doesn’t seem like much to talk about as Thompson may initially appear like nothing more than another AHL journeyman at first. Along with his age (26), it’s easy to dismiss him as a player who’s plateaued skill-wise that falls in the same category with veteran AHLers like Bobby Butler and Ben Walter.
As evidenced around the league, especially in New Jersey, you don’t necessarily have to be in your early twenties to play your first NHL season. Late bloomers like Ryan Malone and Matt Read were 24 and 25 when they made their respective NHL debuts, both having previously played four years of college hockey. Johan Franzen and our own Marek Zidlicky both broke into the league at 26, having started their professional careers overseas.
New Jersey has a long line of undrafted players, many that were well in their twenties before donning the Devils sweater. John Madden and Brian Rafalski, who as we all know won two cups here, were both 26 in their rookie seasons. Rafalski turned pro overseas while Madden started in the AHL. Both previously played four years of college hockey. Andy Greene, New Jersey’s most resourceful defenseman, broke into the NHL at 24, having previously played four years at the University of Miami (Ohio). Along with Greene is Stephen Gionta, a more recent undrafted product. Like Brian, Stephen followed his brother’s footsteps and played four seasons at Boston College. He played in 307 AHL games before making his NHL debut at 27, having since established himself as a fourth line center and penalty killer.
Like many of the players mentioned, Paul Thompson is in his mid-twenties and has yet to play an NHL game. It’s easy to have low expectations for Thompson if you think what we saw from Joe Whitney is any indication. In four NHL games this year, Whitney only logged 27 minutes of ice time, during which he had trials on the Devil’s top and bottom lines. Unlike Whitney, Thompson’s 6’1, 200lb frame makes him harder to knock off the puck, which is an identifiable flaw that Whitney, like many small forwards inevitably possess. One thing Thompson has going for him is the physical snarl in his game. He engages physically when it’s warranted and doesn’t shy away from dropping the mitts, which the Devils have done a lot of recently.
Although he’s recently turned a few heads, Thompson has exhibited flashes of inconsistency. The bulk of his 21 goals this season came in October, when he scored seven goals in seven games, and this month, when he had eight goals in 10 games. Whether this can work for or against Thompson’s case, is the correlative relationship his performance has with Albany’s record. In October and January, the A-Devils went 11-3-3, while going 8-11-5 through November and December. Thompson had just six goals over those 24 games.
Thompson, who is only signed to an AHL contract, will need a two-way deal to become eligible for a call up. Mark Fraser like Thompson, initially started with an AHL deal before signing a two-way contract and the way things are going in Jersey, especially for their forward corps, they might as well be open to broadening their internal options moving forward. Paul Thompson could be one place for them to start.