In 2017, the Calgary Flames drafted an offensive-minded Finnish defender playing in the Western Hockey League with their first round pick. Could they do it again in 2019, in the form of Kelowna Rockets defender Lassi Thomson?
As a late September 2000 birthday, Thomson is among the oldest first-time eligible players in the 2019 NHL Draft class. He’s a right shot defender listed as 6’0″ and 190 pounds. Originally from Tampere, Finland, he played his minor and junior hockey with the Ilves system – his hometown team – before coming over to the Rockets in the 2018 Import Draft.
Jokke Nevalainen of Dobber Prospects broke down Thomson’s game:
Thomson left Finland to play for the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL, and so far that decision has looked good for him. He had a great start to the season offensively but has slowed down a bit since then. He gets to play good minutes with lots of power play time which suits his strengths as an offensive defenseman. He’s not big but he has a big shot from the blue line. And it’s not just a heavy shot, it’s pretty accurate as well. His playmaking abilities aren’t quite as good but they’re pretty good as well. He’s also developed a lot as a skater this season, and it’s a strength for him now. That skating ability allows him to be a good transitional defenseman. His defensive game needs a lot of work before he’s ready to play in the NHL.
In Thomson’s one visit to Calgary this season, he had his pocket picked by Hitmen forward James Malm while being a little bit too casual in his own zone. It led to a goal against.
Bill Placzek of DraftSite had this assessment of the Finnish blueliner:
A mobile defender whose polishing his passing and zone entries in hopes of progressing to the NHL as an eventual power play Quarterback. Has displayed fearless in the defensive end, willing to block shots, or step up in the opposition as they try and gain ice. Very aware of his positioning in his end or when he adjust into open ice going the other way. Always moving his feet and has a good short area burst to get to loose biscuits, and his stickhandling allows him room in traffic. Displays an excellent stick to break up passes, and although his creativity is just emerging, he is very good at laying precision passes on his moving in down deep in the attack zone. And his shot from the point is already coming at NHL velocity. A bit of a riverboat gambler. Still developing but may be second round consolation prize. Cool and collected and improving nicely.
Thomson is sort of the opposite of Edmonton Oil Kings defender Matthew Robertson. Robertson is a defensive beast with no panic in his game who has understated offensive potential, while Thomson has high-end offensive potential, but can be a bit jumpy and his defensive work is a bit of a work in progress. He’s somewhat like Oliver Kylington when he was drafted – great skating and super offensive instincts, but not quite a complete package (yet).
As an 18-year-old WHL rookie, Thomson had a productive offensive season. Among WHL defensemen he was 21st in points and tied for third in goals. Among draft eligible defenders, he was second in both points and goals. The only player ahead of him was Bowen Byram, who’s likely going to go top four in the draft – granted, Byram was way ahead of every WHL defender offensively this past season.
Availability and fit
Based on projections, Thomson will be available when the Flames select at 26th overall: ISS has him outside the first round, Dobber Prospects has him 38th, the Draft Analyst/Sporting News has him 42nd, my rankings at The Hockey Writers have him 36th, Sportsnet has him 27th, The Athletic has him 42nd and 39th, and The Hockey News has him 36th.
Is Thomson a bit of a reach? A little bit. He’s an incomplete player. That said, he’s young and going back to Finland to play pro hockey next season – barring the NHL team that drafts him imposing a different plan. The Flames need more right shot depth on the blueline to complement Juuso Valimaki, Rasmus Andersson and Kylington, and Thomson might be a good fit. The Flames have recent experience working to round out Kylington’s game and they may feel confident that they can do it again with Thomson.
2019 first round targets
Egor Afanasyev | John Beecher | Tobias Björnfot | Bobby Brink | Simon Holmström | Pavel Dorofeyev | Anttoni Honka | Ryan Johnson | Spencer Knight | Brett Leason | Connor McMichael | Ilya Nikolayev | Jakob Pelletier | Samuel Poulin | Patrik Puistola | Matthew Robertson | Nick Robertson