Robert Thomas has been a Blue for so long, it’s easy to forget that he’s still only 24 years old. He was a mere lad of 19 when the Blues won the Stanley Cup in ‘19, getting his name engraved on the chalice in his first NHL season.
That’s special considering the vast cast of Blues who labored for hundreds of games and 10+ seasons without hoisting the Stanley Cup while wearing The Note.
The extensive quest for a Stanley Cup left a gallery of 10-season Blues frustrated and heartbroken. Bob Plager. Brian Sutter. Bernie Federko. Brett Hull. Al MacInnis. David Backes. Barret Jackman. And Robby Thomas reached the team pinnacle after playing in only 91 combined regular season/postseason games.
Thomas has logged 346 regular-season games for the Blues, which already puts him 27th in franchise history. He’s already competed in more games for St. Louis than Pierre Turgeon, Brendan Shanahan, Paul Stastny and Doug Wickenheiser. And Thomas should be in 23rd place for most games by season’s end – when he’ll still be only 24 years old.
How about this gem? RT’s 346 games are the most played by a Blue from age 19 through 24 in franchise history. Thomas just moved past Turgeon (345), Perry Turnbull (345), David Perron (340) and Brian Sutter (339.)
Thomas is off to a positive career start, and he’ll only get better. We’ve seen evidence of his improvement through STL’s first 32 games. Simply put, Thomas is having his best NHL season, and it’s coming at a swell time. The meandering Blues need Thomas to consistently play at a high level. He’s had some clunkers but is doing an admiral job of ratcheting up his game.
Thomas has 12 goals and 23 assists so far and will have to sustain his current pace over the full schedule. This is why 2023-2024 is shaping up as his finest individual NHL campaign as measured by performance at even strength.
+ Thomas has 30 even-strength points which ranks third in the NHL behind Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon (33) and Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov (31). Thomas is hanging with some elite company.
+ Among NHL forwards Thomas is tied for the league lead with 18 even-strength assists. The other forwards with 18 assists are MacKinnon, Florida’s Sam Reinhart, and Vancouver’s J.T. Miller.
+ Among NHL forwards that have clocked at least 400 even-strength minutes, Thomas ranks No. 1 with his rate of 3.64 points per 60 minutes. And he’s No. 3 with 2.18 assists per 60.
+ Thomas is averaging 1.45 even-strength goals per 60 minutes – the best rate of his career. The aforementioned 3.64 points per 60 is also tops for his career. And the 2.18 even-strength assists per 60 is the second-best rate of his career.
+ Thomas is shooting the puck more frequently this season, and that’s led to an increase in scoring. He’s averaging 6.06 even-strength shots on goal per 60 minutes, the highest rate of his career. He’s also averaging a career-best four high-danger shots on goal per 60 minutes at even strength.
+ About that increase in scoring: his rate of 1.45 even-strength goals per 60 minutes is especially notable considering his previous career high point of 0.83 even-strength goals per 60 in 2021-2022. That’s a substantial improvement.
+ When Thomas is on the ice at even strength this season, the Blues have outscored opponents 34-20. And that includes an 18-8 advantage in high-danger goals. The Blues’ goals-scored share of 63 percent when Thomas is deployed at even strength puts him at No. 9 among NHL forwards.
+ Thomas is winning 53.7 percent of his faceoffs (all strengths) this season for the most successful rate of his career. And he’s blocking more shots than ever before. It’s another example of how his all-around game is coming together.
Robert Thomas is profoundly important to the Blues. This point can’t be stressed enough. The franchise has put a lot of money — and hope — on the line through the commitment to Thomas.
This is the first season of his eight-year, $65 million contract that won’t expire until the finish to the 2030-2031 season. The Blues invested heavily in the young center. They invested in his playmaking talent, long-term trajectory, competitive disposition, and growth as a team leader.
The Blues are 3-1 since interim coach Drew Bannister took over for the dismissed Craig Berube. In the three wins since the coaching change, Thomas has flourished with two goals and six assists. The spree includes three assists in Thursday’s 4-1 win at Florida.
Thomas has a hand in eight of the team’s last 12 goals.
And this season the Blues are 15-7 when Thomas contributes at least one point in a game. He’s an impact player when assertive and playing with confidence.
We’ve seen this before. A long time ago, actually. At age 19 Thomas helped the Blues eliminate Dallas in the second round with a goal and three assists in the final five games of a grueling seven-game battle. This young guy always had it in him. It’s nice to see Thomas come of age and evolve into a game-changing presence at a time when so much is expected of him.
Thanks for reading …
A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or grab the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
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All stats used in my hockey columns are sourced from Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference or Evolving Hockey unless otherwise noted.