Paul Thompson’s 18 goals this season may be a career-high, but it’s not much of a surprise. • In fact, Thompson’s goal-scoring prowess feels like old times for the second-year pro. • Before joining the Penguins as an undrafted free agent, Thompson posted lofty goal totals at every level. In 2006-2007, he registered 45 goals in 44 games while playing in the Eastern Junior Hockey League, and went on to score 47 goals in his final two seasons at the University of New Hampshire.
Now he’s doing the same thing in his second AHL season, but that’s not all. Thompson has evolved into a rugged winger who not only can put the puck in the net, but provide a physical element as well.
“I’m not known as a fighter, but when I’m playing gritty and getting in guys’ faces, sometimes it comes with the territory,” he said. “I don’t really go out looking for fights, but with the way I need to play there are times where you have to answer the bell.”
Head coach John Hynes said Thompson’s physical play is an important component to rounding out his game. He can put up points, play in all situations and has the toughness to go along with it, Hynes said.
Still, dropping the gloves more wasn’t necessarily a goal that Thompson set for himself at the start of the season.
Putting the puck in the net more often topped the list.
During his rookie season last year, Thompson scored 10 goals in 67 games while he adjusted to the pro game out of college.
“Last year was more of a learning curve for me,” he said.
Despite missing all of February with an injury, Thompson still managed to eclipse that mark with 18 goals in only 54 games this season. If it wasn’t for the injury, chances are Thompson would’ve topped the 20-goal mark and maybe more by now.
“You do wonder,” he said. “But I’m happy with the way things have been going lately. I was playing pretty well for a couple games before the injury and I’m starting to get the confidence back again with goal scoring.”
Hynes also wonders what Thompson’s numbers would be if he hadn’t missed a month of the season but is happy with what he’s seeing now. Thompson registered goals in back-to-back games last weekend, giving the Penguins some valuable secondary scoring behind the top line.
“You can see he has the ability to score. You don’t lost that knack,” Hynes said. “But a lot of times when you elevate levels, it’s about having the opportunity to play in situations where you can find ways to score.”
For Thompson, that means going to the front of the net and shooting more.
“I could always finish plays and score, but now I think I’ve developed into more of a complete player,” Thompson said. “At this level, it’s tough to be an elite player and score goals without doing the other things right. For me, that means going to those dirty areas and focusing on that. Once you get a few in, you get that confidence back and you want to start putting more pucks on the net.”
That approach is what Hynes likes to see. At one point last season, when Thompson struggled, the Penguins sent him down to Wheeling to get his game in order. He responded with a goal and an assist in his only game with Wheeling before being called back up, and now Hynes says Thompson is a player who is very coachable.
“He listens and he’s willing to learn. When you have those types of guys you see steady improvement because they have the ability to grow their game and they’re willing to improve in certain areas,” Hynes said.
Thompson knows that rounding out his game by following Hynes’ advice will provide the best chance to reach yet another level - the NHL.
“Coach Hynes knows what it takes to get guys to the NHL as a complete player,” Thompson said. “He’s a guy that I want to listen to.”