Thompson newest member of Penguins’ waddle

By Ian Altenbaugh

Playing behind University of New Hampshire standouts James vanRiemsdyk (PHI) and Bobby Butler (OTT) for three years, it was easy for Paul Thompson to be overlooked for much of his collegiate career. A 2007 draft eligible, Thompson came out of the EJHL, an American junior league, where in his final year, he set a record of 45 goals and 38 assists in 44 games. The gaudy offensive totals were not enough though and he went unclaimed in the 2007 draft.

Thompson went on to play two years with New Hampshire where he posted a modest 10 goals and 21 points in 62 games. Something happen though in 2009-10, his junior season, and Thompson broke out offensively, posting 19 goals and 20 assists in 39 games. The skyrocket in production could have been partially due to James vanRiemsdyk going pro, in turn opening up a spot on the powerplay, but Thompson attributes his success to his overall growth as a player.

"A lot of it has to do with opportunity and just being at [New Hampshire] for a couple years," commented Thompson. "When I first got there I was a pretty decent offensive player but I needed to become better at other parts of the game, the defensive side, and just trying to do the smaller things right."

Whatever reason for the offensive outburst, Thompson’s point total, not to mention the savvy he displayed around the net, garnered attention from several NHL organizations including the Pittsburgh Penguins. Thompson would attend the Penguins prospect camp in 2010.

He would return to New Hampshire for his senior season where he would explode offensively. In 39 games, he managed 28 goals and 24 assists, good for tenth in the nation and tied with Cam Atkinson (CLB) for tops in Hockey East. Of his 52 points, 17 came from multi-point efforts including six multi-goal games. Most notably though was Thompson’s success on the powerplay, where he managed 12 goals, the second highest total in the nation.

Thompson’s senior season amassed a great deal of attention within his conference and throughout the nation, finishing a unanimous selection as a Hockey East First Team All-Star, Hockey East Player of the Year, and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.

A day after New Hampshire was bounced from the second round of the NCAA tournament by Notre Dame in overtime, Thompson signed a two-year entry-level deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Three days later he was playing in for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL.

"I was playing one night [in the NCAA] and the next weekend I was playing for Wilkes-Barre," said Thompson.

In his brief time with Wilkes-Barre, Thompson gained one very important supporter in Wilkes-Barre Head Coach John Hynes.

"Paul came with us as a black ace last year in the playoffs," said Hynes. "I would say he was with us for about five weeks. In that period he played [a few] regular season games and one playoff game and then he didn’t play for awhile. Then he wound up playing in our last two games, our games five and six against Charlotte, two basically elimination games. He started on the fourth line, we elevated him to the third line."

In six regular season games in the AHL, Thompson registered a goal, two assists, and a plus-four rating. He also saw sporadic playoff duties, playing in four games and registering an assist.

Hynes credits Thompson’s quick ascension to not only his natural gifts of size and speed, but his excellent work habits. "With his speed, [that part of the game] won’t be an adjustment for him. It is going to be playing against older players and maybe a little bit more of a systematic game."

"That was one of the biggest things [I had to adjust to], the pace and the structure," Thompson concurred. "It is definitely more like working as a five-man unit and staying in your systems a lot more. We have [systems] in college but there is a lot more focus on them in the pro game. If the five-man unit is doing those things then it is easy to have success. But also when you’re not, it can work against you."

The area of the ice Thompson particularly excels is down low and around the net, where he has a knack for scoring goals.

"I like to shoot the puck and I have a pretty good shot I think. Probably 90 percent of goals in hockey are scored within ten feet of the crease. I think I’m pretty good at finishing in close and I’d say that’s probably one of the better aspects of my game."

He is particularly effective in that area of the ice when he is using his thick 6’1 205 pound frame to engage opponents physically.

"When I was down in Wilkes-Barre at the end of the year it was something that we focused on. When I do those little things, move my feet, play physical, I’m a better player."

The biggest question though is whether the prolific offense he displayed in his senior season with New Hampshire will translate to the professional level.

"Once players like him can adjust to how your team structure is and how the game is, then they don’t lose that knack for scoring or those offensive instincts," Hynes said.