After a season in which he reached 50 goals and played to a level where most considered him a blue chip prospect, it seems odd to suggest Christian Thomas’ next twelve months is almost a cross road for him in regards to his Rangers future. However, Thomas is indeed facing a critical period in his career.
This season has been somewhat of a struggle for Thomas. Playing on a middling Oshawa Generals team, getting a long suspension, struggling with his own form (compared to his previous year); the first half of his season was summed up by his failure to make the Team Canada roster for the WJC – a side that hardly covered itself in glory. Thomas’ season has been anti-climatic.
Thomas is still a good young hockey player. However, he is an undersized scoring winger – the type that usually cannot play in the bottom six. Thomas needs to be on a scoring line to thrive and this is why his future with the Rangers is in doubt. With Marian Gaborik enjoying a bounce back year, Ryan Callahan firmly entrenched as captain (and fan darling) and Brandon Dubinsky very much part of the core, there doesn’t remain much space for players to crack the top six that already reside in New York.
Things get even murkier for Thomas when you consider his competition for the wing spots beyond this season. Chris Kreider is enjoying his best season with Boston College and is widely tipped to be a Ranger next season, so Thomas has at least one elite prospect in front of him.
With JT Miller enjoying a solid WJC for Team USA and having a fine season in Plymouth, Thomas may indeed have two first round talents ahead of him without factoring in anyone else. Tough competition indeed. In fact, because of the apparent prospect depth the Rangers enjoy, Thomas may be a deadline asset the Rangers use if they decide to grab a player for a run this season. The fact Thomas is even in the discussion as potential trade bait speaks volumes about his current status.
Thomas currently has 38 points in 31 games for Oshawa. With 18 goals and 6 power play goals Thomas is still a key offensive contributor for his team, but they are hardly awe inspiring numbers. It may have benefited Thomas to have been traded to a contender at the OHL deadline, but instead Thomas found himself stuck (?) in Oshawa. The smallish winger needs to have a great end to his domestic season. He needs to try and be the reason his Generals team sneak in to the playoffs. He needs to score heavily to remind everyone why he was regarded as a quality Rangers prospect. However, that’s just half the task at hand.
Starting next summer, Thomas needs to have a great camp and make sure he plays a solid role in preseason culminating in either a Rangers spot (absolute best case, but unlikely scenario) or more likely, when he arrives in Connecticut for the 12/13 season. He has to play so well that he forces himself a future in New York. Thomas has a lot of talent, but also a lot of work ahead of him. The path is not nearly as clear as it once appeared. While that is a testament of the depth in the Rangers’ organisation it is clearly a rocky road to New York for Christian Thomas.