KANSAS CITY – Christian Thomas spotted his father during warmups, exchanging a glance but staying on his half of the ice. They had talked before the game, father asking son how things were going in a new organization and then wishing him luck.
“It was probably a tough game for him to watch,” Christian Thomas said.
After what Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said was a slow start in training camp, Washington held off on waiving Thomas because of a strong practice this week. He might have bought himself more time with his play on Wednesday night, gelling well on a line with center Jay Beagle and winger Daniel Winnik.
“Competing for a spot here, I’m trying to give them every chance to not send me down,” Thomas said. “I’m trying to make a statement with this little time we have. Hopefully, I can play well enough and earn a spot on this team.”
The Capitals are expected to have just one opening on the roster, at 14th forward. Prospect Zach Sanford is considered the favorite, but with wingers Tom Wilson and Marcus Johansson both nursing injuries, Washington could opt for a veteran player over a rookie. Thomas would be exposed to waivers if he were sent down.
“He started a little bit slowly, and there wasn’t much going on in the Montreal [preseason] game,” Trotz said. “He practiced really well the other day, and we said, ‘We’ve got to give him another shot.’ He was probably the best guy at practice the other day, especially at forward. I said, ‘Hey, let’s give him another shot.’ Put him in, and that line was really good. They were buzzing, and they were very effective.”
Washington signed Thomas to a one-year, two-way deal on the first day of free agency. The 24-year-old registered two assists in six games with the Arizona Coyotes and Montreal Canadiens in 2015-16. He was traded from Montreal to Arizona on Dec. 15 for Lucas Lessio. Thomas was drafted by the Rangers in the second round, 40th overall, in the 2010 NHL draft, and he scored 21 points (10 goals and 11 assists) in 34 AHL games with Springfield and St. John’s last season. He has earned 107 points (52 goals and 55 assists) in 219 career AHL games with Connecticut, Hamilton, St. John’s and Springfield.
“I was battling there in Montreal; I was always that last guy that was getting cut and coming up throughout the season to get a good chance to play,” Thomas said. “But hopefully this season, I can make a statement and earn a spot and stay here the whole year.”
Both of Thomas’s goals were assisted by Beagle and Winnik. His first goal, a one-timer set up by Winnik, gave Washington a 2-1 lead in the first period. Winnik fed Thomas the puck in the slot for his second goal and a 4-1 lead.
“It’s easy to play with a guy who works hard,” Beagle said. “He likes to buzz around and wins battles and recovers pucks really well, and obviously, can bury. He’s fun to play with and is a good player. It was great to see him, just wish we could’ve got the third one for him.”