Well hey, John Tavares isn't in the lineup for tonight's Hockeyville game in Terrace, B.C., but Nate Thompson is. So...
This report card will be pretty brief, because Nate Thompson is the type of center every team has and no team pays very much for: Agile, defensive, checking line forward, who is trusted by the coach. They are like middle relievers: Necessary, replaceable, with stats that can vary from year to year.
It's a safe assumption Thompson is an Islander because Scott Gordon is Islanders coach. That said, when the Isles plucked Thompson off waivers at the beginning of 2008-09, the word was Boston wasn't exactly pleased to lose the guy who Gordon came to know when he coached AHL Providence.
In some online corners, Thompson was a bit of a whipping boy last year (just 2 goals, minus-11 in 43 games), but he generally does what he was hired to do: check, kill penalties, don't make horrible decisions. In other words, Nate Thompson is not why the Islanders finished in lottery land. He doesn't cost anything, and familiarity means the Alaskan helps the coach sleep better at night. Considering his role and salary, there's not much more to ask of him.
Some stats and comps after the jump...
To me, his biggest drawback last year was bad injury luck (which, granted, you could say about nearly every Islander). He missed 9 games with a Gordon Groin injury, 12 games with a broken ankle, and 16 games when a shoulder injury finished him off.
#45 / Center / New York Islanders
Oct 05, 1984
Two-way, $550,000 in NHL
But we don't have a guy named Nate Thompson...yet.
|2008 - 09 Nate Thompson
Random Fact: Had 54 fewer points than fellow Alaskan Scott Gomez last season, yet met expectations equally well.
"This is our concern, Dude" Fact: It's not that Nate Thompson is an Islander, it's that the Islanders have several Nate Thompsons.
The Story: So the above stats are the standard uglies. What about the rest of the Nate Thompson picture? Well, at 5-on-5 he generally skates against the tougher opponents, plays with weaker teammates, and has the unflattering stats to reflect it. His relative +/- rating is in the negatives (-.43) -- weaker than most of his teammates but better than Blake Comeau, Tim Jackman and Jeff Tambellini.
That Comeau and Tambellini rate below him is reflective of something: Sure, you'd prefer a guy with offensive potential (Thompson's career high is 19 goals for Providence) in the lineup, but the role and modest minutes Thompson gets are not enough for a purely offensive guy. Meanwhile, borderline offensive prospects often have 5-on-5 defensive deficiencies like Comeau and Tambellini.
When healthy, Thompson was Gordon's third-most-used forward on the penalty kill, behind Richard Park and Andy Hilbert. That Hilbert is gone means you can expect to see more of the same from Thompson, while I wouldn't be surprised to see Gordon continue to sprinkle guys like Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen -- who was the Islanders' most effective killer per minute -- as Gordon did toward the end of last season.
One more thing: Tohmpson's mobile enough to get by at center at this level, whereas Tim Jackman is not -- which means Thompson also allows our frequent de facto enforcer Jackman to shift to the wing and stick around.
The Poem (a haiku to reflect Thompson's sparse minutes):
Hey Nate, check that guy!
Make stars score below their rate
If you fail, well ... meh.
The Grade: Tough to grade him relative to your 2008 preseason expectations, because Thompson wasn't even Islanders property yet -- and then only managed 43 healthy games. He wasn't claimed until Oct. 8. Mike Sillinger was hurt, and Josh Bailey was here but headed for injured reserve. So, that said ... as with Andy Sutton, I'm not even going to post a standard report card poll. If there is a groundswell of objections to this poll deprivation, I can change my mind as quickly as Kate Murray can change tunes.
But in comments, you might consider what you see in Thompson, whether he can deliver more, or if you hope the Islanders will one day be so deep that there's no need for a Thompson.