In his second season in the AHL, Thomson has shown lots of promising progress
Selected as a bit of a “project” with the 19th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, Lassi Thomson has shown plenty of high-level flashes, but the 2021-22 season looks like his first big step towards becoming an NHL regular.
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Following Thomson’s draft year, he struggled to find his footing with Ilves in Liiga (Finland), over the two years following being drafted in the first round, appearing in 57 games with 7 goals and 15 points and falling out of favour near the end of his tenure there before heading to Belleville at the end of the 2020-21 season.
After the move to Belleville, he experienced his fair share of ups and downs but didn’t look out of place on the blue line, compiling 1 goal and 13 points in 35 games. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the AHL during 2020-21 was significantly watered down with taxi squads being a necessary part of the NHL and an influx of younger junior players crowding the league, but Thomson didn’t stand out enough to warrant large amounts of hype.
Thomson looks like a dynamic and more refined player this season and has seemingly gotten better with every game too, turning into a dominant force some nights in the AHL. In just 35 games this season, Thomson has scored 9 times with 16 assists for an impressive 25 points, putting himself firmly among the best young defencemen in the minors. Thomson’s 0.71 points-per-game ranks 5th among defenders aged 22 and younger, and his 9 goals place him 10th among all AHL defencemen, silencing some of the concerns with the Finnish defenceman’s offensive upside over the past few seasons. What’s also been impressive about Thomson’s upwards trajectory is his improvements on the power-play, he is tied with Jake Lucchini for the team lead in power-play goals with 6. His one-timer is lethal on the man advantage:
The promising defenceman out of Tampere, Finland has always possessed intriguing tools, and that’s likely what enticed Trent Mann and his scouting staff to select Thomson in the middle of the first round. He possesses a booming shot, one that can beat goaltenders clean from pretty much anywhere in the offensive zone, combined with his exceptional skating ability makes him a top candidate to play in the Senators‘ top-4 in the future. His skating allows him to maneuver out of the defensive zone with ease and usually results in a successful transition to the offensive zone, as shown below:
The Senators were able to reward Thomson with 16 games in the middle part of the season due to injuries on the back end, and the 21-year-old defenceman showed signs of what he could be at the NHL level, while racking up 5 assists in the process. Thomson has been prone to defensive mistakes during his time in Belleville, and some of those have flowed over to his NHL play, he tends to find himself flat-footed at times, which can leave him in a vulnerable position defensively. He was burned earlier in the season by the Colorado Avalanche’s Alex Newhook in a similar play.
These are little refinements that need to happen in Thomson’s game over the next few years to be completely trusted by the coaching staff, but it’s not all lost in the defensive zone for Thomson, he does have some definite redeeming qualities that he showed at the NHL level.
Using his strong base and great skating, Thomson is able to angle off players just as he did to Carolina Hurricanes forward Nino Niederreiter in the clip below:
Since his return from injury at the beginning of April, Thomson hasn’t skipped a beat, recording 2 goals and 6 points in his 6 games since returning, a good sign for Belleville’s top defenceman heading down the stretch and potentially into the postseason.
Where From Here?
The best course of action for Thomson’s development would be to keep him in Belleville for the team’s stretch run, rather than playing middling minutes on a struggling team in Ottawa, and I wouldn’t expect the Senators to go with the latter.
Next season is when the team will have to make some decisions, especially regarding the status of their defensive group, where a necessary overhaul will have to take place in the offseason, with many signs pointing to Nikita Zaitsev leaving the roster in some fashion. It’s necessary for Thomson and fellow Senators’ top prospect Jacob Bernard-Docker to get more NHL time next season, one will hopefully be given the opportunity to start the season in Ottawa next season. The domino that has to fall is Zaitsev, the team needs to move on from the struggling veteran defenceman who is under contract for another two seasons at $4.5 million annually. On top of that, Erik Brannstrom is an interesting case due to his fit within the organization in the future, many are iffy about his projection, and I can see the worries with his play style.
A much improved defensive core next season could consist of:
Thomas Chabot- Artem Zub
Jake Sanderson – Travis Hamonic
Nick Holden – Lassi Thomson
Thomson adds necessary mobility alongside Holden on the bottom-pairing, and with improvements in his play, would have the chance to potentially jump Hamonic for a spot in the top-4. With the addition of Jake Sanderson into the fray, it may take potential power-play time away from Thomson, or both could form a dynamic duo on the second unit. If he doesn’t make the team out of camp next season all isn’t lost, especially if it’s to Bernard-Docker who is very deserving of the promotion too, but Thomson makes the most sense to start next season.