Crunch's Thomas Looks to Be Impact Player at Both Ends of the Ice

By Jeremy Houghtaling

A deep playoff run last season was key to Ben Thomas’ development.

The defenseman went from earning a regular shift to more duties, including special teams, during his rookie season with the Syracuse Crunch. Each step of the way to the Calder Cup Finals added to Thomas’ confidence, and he frequently looked to join and support the rush.

Thomas looks to become more an impact player at both ends of the ice in his second pro season.

“I think it’s a part of my game. I like to jump in the rush and help create offense,” Thomas said. “I think now I definitely have the confidence to do that and get back into my position to be a good defender. It’s been one thing I’ve always liked to implement in my game, and I’m going to try and continue to do it.”

Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx likes Thomas’ size and skill set, and believes the 21-year-old could progress into what many NHL teams are looking for: a mobile defensemen who can quickly get the puck out of their own end and into the opponent’s zone.

“You don’t want to have only a specialist on defense or only a quarterback. If there’s one or two power plays in the game, you’re not as effective as you’d like to be,” Groulx said. “A transition defenseman that means he moves the puck well and skates well. Sometimes those guys are one-man breakouts. For me, he’s like that a little bit. This is what hockey needs now from those D, and I think he’s got those attributes to be a good player.”

Thomas has 11 shots on goal and a pair of assists in seven games this season, and has become a mainstay on the Crunch's power play.

Last season Thomas registered three goals and 18 assists in 71 regular season games, and added five goals and eight assists in 22 playoff contests. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s fourth round pick in 2014 earned more power play time as the season wore on.

“He had a great playoff run,” Groulx said. “I thought he had way more confidence in himself supporting and sometimes leading the rush.”

Thomas was coming off three full years in the Western Hockey League with Calgary and Vancouver. In 230 career games, the Calgary native recorded 23 goals and 77 assists.

“I think the first year I wasn’t sure what to expect coming from junior,” Thomas said. “That’s probably the biggest thing now. I obviously have a year of experience, so I know what to expect coming in and I know my role is bigger. I think I’m just putting a little more pressure on myself to perform and be relied upon.”

Now Thomas is working to be that same dependable blue liner every game and every shift.

“I think that’s a big thing with all young players is they’ll play really good and then sometimes it will be hard to find consistency in their game,” Thomas said. “I think that’s something that comes with maturity and something I’m really trying to work on, keeping my game at a high level night in and night out.”

Pictured: Crunch defenseman Ben Thomas makes a pass during a game against the Devils at the Onondaga County War Memorial Friday.