Produced by the Western Hockey League in partnership with BC Tree Fruits, “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” is a multi-part series highlighting the next generation of WHL stars set to embark on a journey pursuing NHL dreams. “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” can be seen monthly at WHL.ca, featuring a key member of the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft Class. Together, the WHL and BC Tree Fruits are “Growing the Game’s Best Talent.”
To persevere; an action that easily encompasses Lassi Thomson’s approach to hockey and life.
Not only did the Western Hockey League rookie make a splash with the Kelowna Rockets, but he did so on a smaller ice surface, in a new country and in an entirely different language. Despite these challenges, the Tampere, Finland native persevered, becoming the top defenceman and top rookie on his team which rewarded him with a Western Conference Rookie of the Year nomination for the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy from the WHL.
Rewind to the beginning of the 2018-19 WHL Regular Season and Thomson was off to a hot start. While Rockets General Manager Bruce Hamilton speculated that it may take Thomson a while to adjust to the speed and size on the North American game, the 18-year-old quickly put those rumours to rest with his performance. In his first month an a half in the WHL, Thomson collected 16 points (7G-9A), leading all rookie defenceman. Although it was a different style of game, Thomson’s adaptability stood out.
“I think I got the best place to play,” said Thomson. “The ice is bigger in Finland. I found the first couple games tougher on the smaller ice, but now it’s easier to play. I’ve noticed that the North American game is more physical, but I like it, it’s a lot of fun.”
Thomson also credits his billet family, teammates and coaches for helping him with his English and transition to the Okanagan lifestyle.
Hoping to continue his successful season, the 6-foot, 190-pound blueliner was looking forward to getting a crack at Finland’s IIHF World Junior Championships roster for the event in Vancouver and Victoria, B.C. in December 2018. But again, a challenge was thrown Thomson’s way when he became a late cut from the team.
But did that slow Thomson down? Not even close. Fueled with determination, Thomson persevered in the remainder of his rookie season and climbed the NHL Central Scouting rankings. Originally, in October, Thomson was given a “C” ranking. By the end of the season in April, Thomson had shot up to the 15th overall position among North American skaters, potentially placing him within the first or second round of the NHL Draft.
“Of course, it’s wonderful [to be ranked that high],” smiled Thomson. “Last summer I didn’t know if I would be drafted at all. I didn’t talk to anyone and no one knew me. It’s just so different this year.”
A substantial part of the jump was due to Thomson’s play after the Christmas break. Despite being cut from the Finnish roster, Thomson picked up his game and finished the season with 41 points (17G-24A), quickly became a defenceman for NHL teams to watch. An appearance at the 2019 Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Red Deer, Alta. also alerted NHL scouts of his skills.
“He’s got a good shot,” said Rockets Head Coach Adam Foote. “He’s a dynamic player that can really move well. There’s not too many guys that can make something happen out of nothing and he’s one of those guys that can.”
Teams looking for an offensive defenceman with an array of shots, quick feet and ability to push through the tough days with a smile on his face will be happy to call Thomson’s name on June 21st or 22nd at the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver, B.C. and Thomson will be just as happy to hear it.