2019 NHL Draft Prospect Profile: Lassi Thomson

Lassi Thomson made the jump to the WHL for his NHL draft season and put up some interesting numbers. The dependable two-way defender isn’t the flashiest player but has all the attributes that leave you with the sense that he is going to be an NHL player. He was a minute eater for the Kelowna Rockets this season and was a regular on their power play and penalty kill and saw his team lean him as the season wound down.

Generally projected to be an early second round pick, there is a lot to like about the Finnish defenceman and he should present some good value for where he is eventually selected on draft day.

Bio

  • Age/Birthdate: 18 / September 24, 2000
  • Birthplace: Tampere, Finland
  • Frame: 6-foot-0 / 190 lbs
  • Position: Defence
  • Handedness: Right
  • Draft Year Team: Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
  • Accolades:
    • 2017-18
      • U18 WJC Gold Medal

2018-19 Stat Rundown

GP G A P INV% 5v5 Pr INV% 5v5 ePr60 SEAL Sh/GP Sh% 5v5 eTOI GF% GF%rel GD60 rel XLS% Top XLS% XPR
63 17 24 41 27% 15% 0.67 0.65 2.89 9% 18.6 54.2% 16.9% 1.44 37% 22% 26.2

Scouting Report

It can be difficult to balance the high upside players with the high floor players. Ideally, you are swinging for the fences and hoping that they pan out; but that comes with that risk that it probably won’t work out. Sometimes, a dependable player who just does everything well is the path that leads you to the best player available.

Which brings us to Thomson.

This right-handed defender is effective in all three zones at moving the puck in the right direction and does it in a variety of ways.

He likes to join the rush and can be the puck carrier through the neutral zone, but he doesn’t jump up when the situation isn’t great. Furthermore, he does have a good first pass out of the zone and displays good anticipation in transition.

One example of how he can create offence by leading the rush is from the February 18th game against Victoria:

Thomson is effective at moving the puck but generally doesn’t seem to create the space for his teammates. If he is utilizing his skating abilities and moving around the zone, it’s usually to create space for himself to get a shot off. Ideally, he could be more creative in the ways to open up lanes for his teammates and then feed them.

His point totals don’t immediately stand out, but digging deeper, you can see that they were better than what they seem at first glance.

On the defensive side of the puck, he is readily aware of his gap control through his foot movement or stick placement when defending the defensive blueline. He isn’t a defender that allows his opponents much time to make decisions when coming at him; he or his stick are always putting pressure on them.

Like any 18-year-old defenceman, there are some concerns to his defensive game. Once the opponent has gained the zone, the stick work that I mentioned above seems to evaporate and he instead relies on trying to physically box out players. Which is fine to some degree, but he just isn’t quite as effective as you would hope.

Furthermore, I’ve found him to be a bit timid when watching the play develop around him. This results in him chasing at times when he does eventually react. Both of those are not major concerns but merely observations that suggest he can round out his game there.

His skating abilities are one of the attributes that do stand out about his game. He is agile on his feet and uses that to create space for himself when in possession of the puck. He doesn’t have a high-end top speed but a good two-step quickness to allow him to close gaps quickly, or even when he may have been beaten wide due to a misread of his opponent’s speed.

From the quantitative side of the scouting report, one thing stood out to me with the data that Jeremy provided:

All of his most regular line-mates posted much better goals-for percentage numbers when on the ice with Thomson than when away from him. His +16.9% GFrel is just another added layer to that positive impact and the eye-test generally lined up with the idea that he was making his teammates better.

There are some holes to his game but the overall package allows him to be effective.

Analysis

Thomson worked his way up through the Ilves program in Finland before ultimately deciding to jump to Kelowna this past season. He ended that final year in Finland as being part of the team that won a Gold Medal at the U18 World Juniors in April 2018.

In Kelowna this season, he posted seventeen goals and twenty-four assists in sixty-three games. He ranked second among first time draft eligible defencemen in goals, primary points, points, primary points per games played and points per games played. This was all while averaging an estimated 5v5 time on ice of 17.73 minutes per game.

At the conclusion of the season, Thomson was named the Rookie of the Year for the WHL Western Conference and was also named to the second all-star team in the West.

His production gives us the following results among his cohorts:

(Read more about pGPS here.)

With 146 matches (n), pGPS has estimated an impressive 31.8% likelihood of becoming an NHL regular, which is a really high success rate for a player that many have ranked outside the first round.

Mentioned off the top, as the season went along for the Rockets, Thomson saw a bump in his ice-time to close out the season

Which makes sense as he appeared to get more comfortable with the role and thus the coaching staff appeared confident that he could do everything for them.

His 2.89 shots per game are an encouraging sign and does reinforce that he is looking to get pucks onto the net when he is in the offensive zone. Ideally, we’d see more playmaking to his game but there is little doubt about the ability to produce offence on his own.

It’s was announced yesterday that Thomson would be returning to Liiga next year with Ilves, which throws an interesting wrinkle into this selection.

Normally, a player selected from major junior would have their rights held by their drafting team for two years (until the second June 1 after being selected. But Article 8.6(d) touches on the exact situation that Thomson is going through:

He now gets essentially treated as if he was being drafted directly out of Europe, which gives a drafting team four years to sign him rather than the two.

This may end being a good thing as Thomson will get to play against men in Finland for the next couple of years working on rounding out his game and the drafting team isn’t rushed into making a decision on him.

Things could change as he was technically always under contract with Ilves and was released to join Kelowna but based on the information released yesterday, it’s fair to believe he returns to Finland.

Personally, I see Thomson topping out as being a middle pairing defender who can help do everything for the team. Some are more optimistic about his offensive game and suggest that the sky is the limit but I believe that he needs to be a little more aware of his teammates in the offensive zone to really get behind that idea.

I think he will do quite well in Liiga next season (if he does return) and could be a player that slowly trends upward as the season goes along. Thomson has a decent chance to represent Finland at the World Juniors this upcoming December.

He’s on the older side of the draft class, missing the 2018 cut-off by 8 days, but there are enough reasons to believe he will be successful at the professional level and could add some serious depth on the backend to whoever takes him at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.

Additional Charts and Data

Rolling Season Data

Team Relative

Cohort Based

Sources

Raw data for the charts used in this article came from eliteprospects.com and WHL.ca. Other data sources include prospect-stats.com.

You can check out some of Lassi Thomson’s games on prospectshifts.com here (paywall)