The Ontario Hockey League has long been known for developing it's share of hockey's
youngest players and turning them into prominent NHL stars. One of the
OHL's most storied franchises, the London Knights, is notorious for developing
top prospects. When you think of the Knights, you think of current elite
players like Patrick Kane, Rick Nash, Corey Perry and Hall Of Famers such as
Brendan Shanahan and Darryl Sittler. Aurora native, and York-Simcoe
Express graduate, Robert Thomas, is striving to become the next great Knight to
join the ever-growing list of superstars.
A total of eight players from the York-Simcoe Express Minor Midget program were chosen in the 2015 OHL Priority Selection this past spring. Robert, at 5'11, was the highest selected. The London Knights picked Thomas 4th overall in the second round, something he says is a dream come true. "I watched a couple of (London) exhibition and regular season games and it's just an unbelievable atmosphere there, and a dream of mine to play for them" said Thomas. "I was at home watching the draft on the Internet, so it was definitely a shock when I heard them call my name." The young rookie is regarded as an elite skater with excellent vision and hockey sense, a gifted goal scorer, and a playmaker, by his former Minor Midget coaches. In his Minor Midget year, Robert tallied 18 goals and 27 assists for 45 points whilst helping lead his team to the OMHA finals where they captured the silver medal. On October the 12th, Thomas connected for his first career OHL goal in a game versus the Hamilton Bulldogs. Thomas was able to shovel home a loose puck in the crease and, while it may not have been the way he imagined it, he says it's definitely a relief to get it out of the way. "It was a monkey off my back, getting the first one felt really good."
So far in his rookie season, the Aurora, Ontario native has seen action in just 11 games, however it's been nothing short of excitement. Along with his London Knights teammate, Evan Bouchard, Robert was selected to represent Canada at the 2015 World U17 Hockey Championship. Their team, Canada White, defeated Russia to win the first gold medal for a Canadian team since Team Ontario defeated the United States in 2011. Thomas recorded one assist in the tournament and while he may have played a limited role, it's an accomplishment that he's extremely proud of. "It's obviously a great honour to represent your country and wear the Canadian jersey." He said. "Growing up and watching the World Juniors on TV and Team Canada be successful, it's always been a dream of mine.”
While many would be intimidated by the long list of successful players to graduate from London's system, the poised 16 year old sees it as a golden opportunity to learn and grow his game. "It really shows you how great London is at developing young players into becoming pro players." He said. "It's really about learning the game and trying to become a complete player that's ready to play in the NHL. London's done a great job. You look at all the names that have come through, and it's just really nice to be a part of it." The young two-way forward is enjoying his time with the Knights but admits there are parts of his game to improve. "They (London) want me to become a little more gritty” Said Thomas. “A little bit more physicality to my game to allow me to make that next jump.” While he adds that not playing everyday is an adjustment, he knows its just part of being a rookie.