Albany left wing Ben Thomson is pretty big and pretty fearless for a rookie.
He’s not just fearless in the face of an opponent who’s dropped his gloves, but he’s also not afraid to embrace the kind of game he needs to play.
Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said he knows what he’s going to get from Thomson on a nightly basis, and that’s why he’s played 50 of the Devils’ 54 games so far this season. No other rookie has played more than 33.
“He may have his off nights, where he doesn’t have as much jump, but because of his grit, you know he’s going to finish his hits, and sometimes goes out of his way to find them,” Kowalsky said. “He plays that heavy game that I don’t think we have enough of, consistently, in our lineup.”
Thomson will likely play on the fourth line (checking line, energy line, whichever name one may prefer) when the Devils play at Syracuse tonight at 7. They will play at Hershey Saturday at 7 p.m., then return home for a 3 p.m. game against Binghamton on Sunday.
Thomson is 6-foot-3, weighing in at 215 pounds. Kowalsky said he’s got good hands and makes good decisions with the puck in most areas and at most times. For him to take another positive step with his game, Kowalsky said Thomson has to keep working on his foot speed and his quickness. Asked independently a few minutes later, Thomson had the same response.
“I have a gift some people aren’t born with, with my size, but with that comes some negatives, as well,” Thomson said. “So I need to keep working on my speed and quickness. Also just being a little more calm with the puck. Sometimes, the play comes a little quicker than I’m expecting.”
It seems he’s absorbing the things his coach is pointing out to him. He also soaks in anything the veterans have to tell him.
Playing the line he flanks, Thomson is almost always with a pair of Devils who have been pros for five to 10 years, or longer. His first game, he said, he was with Darcy Zajac and Cam Janssen, and those two have been among the teammates who have helped him make the transition to the pro game.
“It takes a while to learn on your own, but with guys like that there, they’re not afraid to tell you what you’re doing wrong. And I’m not afraid to listen,” Thomson said. “That’s the biggest thing. You need to be able to utilize your teammates and your assets you have around you, whether that’s the coaches or veterans who know how to play the game the right way.”
He credited the energy and enthusiasm Janssen brings each day with helping keep him motivated and keeping him in the weight room. He’s going to have to keep that determination in the weight room, because Thomson said he wants to fill out a bit during the offseason, so he can use his size even more to his advantage.
“The thing with Thomer is he knows what he is, and that’s what you like,” Kowalsky said. “A lot of young guys struggle with that. He knows what he is, and we haven’t seen a lot of young guys come in here and relish power forward, going out and just forecheck, that type of game. Guys want to make plays, be a skill guy.
“He’s not going to try to beat anybody one-on-one, but he will challenge you one-on-one to make you stay up and then put it behind you. If you don’t want to go into the corner with him, he’s going to beat you to the puck and he’s tough to get off. It’s really that simple and that’s why, for me, he’s stayed in the lineup above not only other rookies, but also some guys who have been here. He’s earned that.”