The St. Louis Blues addressed their lack of depth at the center position on Friday night, selecting Robert Thomas with the 20th pick in the draft.
Despite the fact that they selected Tage Thompson in the first round of last year’s NHL Draft, the St. Louis Blues didn’t have a ton of depth at the center position going into this year’s annual selection meeting. Along with a couple other moves they made Friday night, the Blues addressed that issue by selecting center Robert Thomas of the OHL London Knights with the 20th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft.
Thomas, a 17-year-old from Aurora, Ontario, profiles as a smart, hard-working player who will do a great job of setting up opportunities for his teammates and create ample chances for himself. The 6-foot, 193-pounder was extremely productive during the 2016-17 season, his second in the OHL, achieving a point-per-game pace by registering 16 goals and 50 assists over 66 games.
As things stand now, it would seem that Thomas is at least three full seasons away from contributing in the NHL, but the timetables with these types of projections have been way off in recent years. When Robby Fabbri and Ivan Barbashev were drafted in 2014, the indication was that Fabbri might need four full seasons of development and Barbashev three before they’d be ready to compete in the NHL. Instead, Fabbri almost made the Blues’ roster in 2014, spent a year in juniors, and then was a full-time NHL player by the beginning of the 2015-16 season. Barbashev spent a year in juniors, then another year-and-a-half in the AHL, and broke into the NHL midway through this past season.
If things turn out the way the Blues want them to, the Blues could have quite a few young centers to choose from in the not-too-distant future. The hope is that Thompson, Barbashev, and Zach Sanford will to claim full-time jobs as centers by the start of the 2018-19 season, and depending on how he progresses, Thomas might not be that far behind the others.
With as exciting as they all are, those players might have difficulty fitting in at center, as the Blues have new acquisition Brayden Schenn signed through 2019-20 and Patrik Berglund locked up through 2021-22, though Berglund could eventually move back to a wing position if necessary.
The Blues will hope that their Robert Thomas than the last player with that name who was selected in the first round by a St. Louis sports team. The then-St. Louis Rams selected linebacker Robert Thomas from UCLA with the 31st pick of the NFL Draft, and he turned out to be a major bust, starting 30 games for the Rams over three years before moving on to the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders.