Thursday, September 6, 2018

Thomas begins his trek to NHL competing at Traverse City

2017 first-round pick expected to make Blues roster, hopes to leave final mark 
with fellow prospects; Kyrou, Kostin, Walman, others looking to leave mark

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- To say forward Robert Thomas has some mixed emotions with training camp on the horizon.

But the Blues' 2017 first-round pick has the right mindset regarding the opportunity and the hype surrounding his status.

(Hockey Canada photo)
Robert Thomas will lead Blues prospects into the Traverse
City Tournament beginning Friday.
"I'd say it's a bit of both, a bit of nerves and it's a bit of excitement," Thomas said Thursday. "Your mentality's got to be that you want to make the team. If you don't have that, then you're far behind already. That'll be my mentality coming in is that you want to make the team and I want to stay."

First thing's first though, and that's competing -- according to Thomas for hopefully the last time -- with fellow prospects at the Traverse City Tournament in Michigan beginning Friday through Tuesday.

Thomas, who completed a terrific season by helping the Hamilton Bulldogs win the Ontario Hockey League championship before falling short in the Memorial Cup, took the precautionary route during the summer, including skipping out on prospects camp in late June because of an ankle injury sustained during the OHL championship series.

Thomas, 19, who had 75 points (24 goals, 51 assists) in the regular-season with the Bulldogs and London Knights before being traded, and another 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists) for the Bulldogs in the playoffs, was able to take some time to spend with his family when he got back from playing in four games at the Memorial Cup and made an appearance at Canada's world junior showcase but didn't skate, feels 100 percent healthy and ready to roll.

"I think so," Thomas said. "It was good that you sort of take your time and make sure you're fully healed because you don't want a little injury like that nagging throughout the start of the year. I feel all good.

"That's sort of your mindset, but I think the best thing about the tournament is it gets you in game form. That's really nice and it's a big advantage going into main camp. In the summer, you don't really do too many game-like practices or scrimmages and little skill drills. To be able to have those kind of games going into main camp's very important."

Along with Thomas, Jordan Kyrou (second round pick in 2016) is expected to headline and stand out among the top prospects from the eight-team field that begins with competition on Friday. The Blues will face Carolina at 2:30 p.m.

"The message is pretty simple. Every opportunity you have to impress people, you want to take advantage of that," said Blues coach Mike Yeo, who will be among the delegation of Blues brass on hand to observe. "Obviously, we want skill players here, we want guys that can put the puck in the net and we also want winners and we want leaders and these are guys that we expect to be good leaders for our group, so those are the types of things that we're looking for.

"Obviously it's a hard tournament, and they're competing against the best players in the world at their age. It's not easy to go out there and it's a tough tournament, I can tell you that there's been a lot of really good players that have gone to that tournament and struggled and still turned out to be great NHL players. It's not the end-all and be-all. That said, it's usually a pretty good benchmark of how close players are to being ready. It's a real good sign when players go there and stand out, then it's a real good sign."

Along with Thomas and Kyrou, fellow 2017 first-round pick Klim Kostin will play, along with defenseman Jake Walman (third round pick in 2014), 2018 first-round pick Dominik Bokk, free agent signee Mitch Reinke, goalie Evan Fitzpatrick (second round pick in 2016), who won the Memorial Cup with Acadie-Bathurst, Erik Foley, who the Blues acquired when they traded Paul Stastny to Winnipeg last season and Nolan Stevens (fifth round in 2016) are among the 25 on the roster.

"We have a really good roster, a lot of skill, pretty solid defensively," Thomas said. "I think we've got a really, really good team.

"... It's such a high-intensity tournament and going from summer skates to that tournament's a little bit getting used to. And then it just keeps getting more intense as you go into main camp and preseason. I think it's a good starting point to get the ball rolling."

Some of the prospects, namely ones drafted this past June in Dallas, are a few years off from getting a serious look at the NHL but Yeo said this is the start to leaving lasting marks.

"I think you're looking for something different," said Yeo, who remembered this being how Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon got his recognition and entry into the NHL through a solid tournament here. "What I'm looking for from a guy who I'm expecting to come in and compete for a spot on our team might be different from what I'm looking for from a guy that I know is going back to junior, but what you're looking for essentially from all of them is the guys that we picked are the best in their age bracket with their peers and now they're going out to compete with the same level of players. And so we're looking for them to stand out. You can stand out in a lot of different ways. Obviously a goalie is going to stand out in a different way than a forward and likewise for a defensive defenseman compared to an offensive defenseman. For me basically I'm looking for people to leave their mark on the game. You can be successful in a lot of different ways, but you're looking for competitiveness, you're looking for guys to find a way to impact the game and help their team in their own way."

The Blues will face Columbus on Saturday at 2:30 p.m., followed by a final group game against Chicago on Monday at 6:30 p.m. following a day off and then conclude action on Tuesday depending on where they finish in the Gordie Howe Division.

In the Ted Lindsay Division, it's Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota and the New York Rangers.

All games can be streamed live on FOX Sports GO.

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