One game into the 2020-21 St. Louis Blues season, we thought Robert Thomas had arrived. In 60 minutes against the Colorado Avalanche, we saw just about everything we hoped for from this young player.
Thomas was using his speed to get past players and using his shiftiness to duck past them and push toward the net. His passing eye, which we always knew was there, really showed up too.
Thomas finished that game with two assists, both of which were pretty high quality. This was the player that was going to grab that top-line center role and never let it go.
Unfortunately, that’s not how the rest of the season went. Thomas had two points in that game. He finished that season with 12.
Granted, injuries played a part in that since he only played in 33 games. However, Thomas played in 66 games the year prior, which only brings him to 24 points for 2020-21 if he kept up the same pace. That’s still a big drop from the 42 points he had in his sophomore season.
Beyond the points, Thomas looked like a player who had lost his way. He was neither capable of playing the Blues punishing style, nor the up-tempo game he had grown accustomed to playing.
Thomas almost seemed resigned to his third-line role. It’s one thing to be a team player and perform your role to the best of your ability, but another to resign yourself to that role as though that is as high as you can climb.
So, going into the 2021-22 season, despite a tone of promise and potential, Thomas may be one of the team’s biggest question marks. That’s saying quite a bit considering the uncertainty surrounding the bottom pair of defenders and also who plays which wing on which line for the new additions to the team.
The problem the Blues face is that they still have a young, perhaps raw, player on their hands, but they cannot wait forever. It is easy to forget that Thomas just turned 21, but he is going into his fourth professional season.
There are arguments to be had regarding whether half seasons and partial seasons count, but the bottom line is he has been playing against and practicing with some of the best in the world. Despite that, he has yet to solidify himself as a top-six forward, much less a top-line center.
To start the upcoming season, Thomas is almost surely going to be the third-line center. With the likelihood Tyler Bozak will not be there and with no clear reason to move Brayden Schenn to the wing yet, that’s where he’ll slot in.
Eventually, the Blues need him to grab the proverbial brass ring. That’s on Thomas.
Some fans will say that Craig Berube has not given him enough look with the top line to know for sure. There was a time that sentiment was agreeable, but Thomas needs to force their hand.
Right now, depending on your view point, he’s either stagnated or regressed. We know the talent is there, but it can’t come in brief flashes.
An additional item Thomas needs to work on and improve is his faceoffs. His ability in the faceoff circle was tolerable when you had Bozak and Ryan O’Reilly – two of the best. Schenn is just below 50% on his draws, so the Blues need Thomas to figure it out. O’Reilly can’t be the only guy you can depend on.
St. Louis needs a big year out of Thomas in 2021-22. While he’s never going to be a goal scorer, his lack of overall offense last season hindered this team. Given the lack of goals they are likely to have again if they trade Vladimir Tarasenko, the Blues need more from Thomas.
A shooting mentality would be nice, but he needs to hit 40-50 points at the very least.
We’ve seen it’s in there. Now, we just need to see the Robert Thomas we saw on January 13, 2021 instead of the enigma that has been on the ice at other times.