Robert Thomas of the London Knights. Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images

St. Louis Blues first round pick from last springs NHL draft, Robert Thomas, continues to make strides in his game, in particular his already strong skating. A two-way centerman with a good work ethic, Scott Crawford breaks down his game in detail below.

A note on the 20-80 scale used below. We look at five attributes (skating, shooting, puck skills, hockey IQ and physicality) for skaters and six for goalies (athleticism/quickness, compete/temperament, vision/play reading, technique/style, rebound control and puck handling). Each individual attribute is graded along the 20-80 scales, which includes half-grades. The idea is that a projection of 50 in a given attribute meant that our observer believed that the player could get to roughly NHL average at that attribute at maturity.

Robert Thomas 2017 Draft (20th - St. Louis Blues)
Position: C, Shoots R H/W: 6'0", 190 lbs.
Stats to date (GP-G-A-PTS-PIMS) London Knights, OHL (12-9-8-17-8)
Robert Thomas of the London Knights. Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Robert Thomas of the London Knights. Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Skating: Thomas’s time at the Blues training camp made way for an improvement in his skating, his best hockey skill. Entering training camp, he knew that his speed was his best skill, but he still persists in trying to improve there on his way to becoming an NHL player. When I watched Thomas skate, he was not only the best player for the Knights, he was the best skater on the ice. His transition from offense to defense then back the other way again was on display. As a center his first two strides help him catch up to opposing puck carriers entering his zone. From up close you could hear his blades dig into the ice when he would skate East-West or see him cross-over to adjusted plays. The best improvement he has shown in his skating has been his acceleration when taking off from anywhere on the ice. In the defensive zone, if he sees his defenseman being out-manned in the corners he will quickly with one stride skate from his own net to the corner surprising the opposing forwards. Away from the puck his acceleration is more impressive because he has the ability to leave himself more open for a first pass in the neutral zone giving his defenseman with the puck a very good open option. Grade: 60

Shot:  An aggressive player known for his passing plays last seasons when he assisted on 50 goals this season he has become more aggressive with his shot attempts. He is shooting more than he is passing and it is only going to help him be more of an offensive juggernaut. He uses a strong wrist shot when he is pushing the offensive rush. It is the most effective shot he has and he relies on it to not only attempt to score goals, but to position rebound shots soundly in front of the opposing goaltender. He possesses a strong backhand that he will use when he skates from the half walls to the middle of the high slot area to shoot through traffic and challenge the goaltender. However, he needs to continue developing his slap shot. There have been instances where his slap shot is weak from a far distance, but his wind up for the slap shot is also slow to prepare leaving blockers enough to time to fill the space and prevent Thomas from launching a decent shot on net. Grade: 55

Skills: A player with quick hands, Thomas can move his mitts with his acceleration when he is moving up the ice. If he is moving quickly he can move his stick around, while if he is moving slowly he can still move his stick around players. It is interesting to watch and intriguing to see a player do that while skating the way he does. The impressive thing about his stick work is he can deke around players anywhere on the ice whether it be in the corners or behind the net. He takes good care of the puck and instills good puck protection along with his mobility in all three zones. Grade: 60

Smarts: An intelligent player that is one of the best two-way centres in the OHL. He is reliable on the PK and can be trustworthy on the PP. He is a coach’s player with strong work ethic and wants to be a better player every day. The drawback to his intelligence though is the tendency to be over-confident. I see it in his play as there are times when he can be too flashy, and it turns the London Knights’ offensive plays to dust and the other team can get the loose puck. He needs to be more focused on protecting the puck and be less showy to the crowd to be a complete player.  Grade: 55

Physicality: He hits more than other centers do in the OHL and tries to hit people at the right time. There are times when he can be hitting too much in the defensive zone and forgets his defensive assignment. With an over-commitment to hitting, Thomas prevents himself from being a responsible player in his own end and other teams will take advantage of his missteps. Grade: 50

Summary:  Robert Thomas is an interesting player to watch as he is a five-tool player that can play offense, back-check puck carriers to play defense and can be relied upon at both 5v4 or 4v5. His stick handling skills are put on notice for the way he controls the puck around all three zones. His skating will help him in the long run as he progresses away from the OHL to the pros. His drawback will be his attitude towards being a flashy player. He needs to try to be less focused on putting the puck between his legs and more focused on making the right plays for his coaches to win games.

Overall Future Projection (OFP): 56.75

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