Baby Pens wing Thompson getting 2nd chance to impress
WILKES-BARRE — When the Penguins were sketching their organizational depth chart last summer, Paul Thompson's name wasn't in the NHL column, but it wasn't far from it.
A 6-foot-1, 198-pound right wing with power-forward tendencies, the undrafted Thompson caught the attention of NHL scouts with a 28-goal senior season at the University of New Hampshire in 2011. By last year, he had developed into a 20-goal scorer for the Baby Pens.
Then, sometime this fall, the bottom fell out. Baby Pens coach John Hynes didn't like the lack of competitiveness on the puck that he was seeing from Thompson.
“I wasn't winning a lot of one-on-one battles, and we have a deep organization,” Thompson said. “If you're not playing at the top of your game, you're going to be out.”
Thompson was a healthy scratch for seven of the team's first 15 games. When he dressed, he played limited minutes, not in the top six or on the power play. He had dug himself a difficult hole.
“That's really what's held him back, that rhythm, that confidence, and the compete on the puck,” Hynes said.
Lately, injuries and call-ups have given Thompson a chance to turn his season around.
He scored his first goal of the year in a 3-2 loss to the Springfield Falcons on Wednesday night and has 18 shots in his last six games, two more than he totaled in his first 11 games of the season combined.
“This is when I have to start producing more,” Thompson said. “It's a little bit frustrating, but the only way you can get out of it is keep working hard.”
After Zach Sill fared well in his first NHL fight against Columbus' Corey Tropp last Monday, he was modest in an interview with Trib columnist Joe Starkey.
“I feel comfortable dropping the mitts every once in a while,” Sill said.
He should feel comfortable. With a dangerous left hand, Sill has been one of the top middleweights in the AHL over the last three seasons. According to the voters at dropyourgloves.com, a website devoted to hockey fighting, he's 13-0-4 since 2011.
The Penguins like 2012 fourth-rounder Matia Marcantuoni as a potential bottom-six forward with speed and tenacity on the forecheck. For now, though, he is mired in a trying season in the Ontario Hockey League.
The 19-year-old Marcantuoni has six goals, five assists and a minus-11 rating in 20 games for last-place Kitchener. He has missed the last month or so with a shoulder injury.
While injuries have remodeled rosters up and down the Penguins organization, the team on the third rung down has kept chugging along.
Despite losing six of their top 11 scorers to call-up and injury in the last month, the Wheeling Nailers of coach Clark Donatelli were 10-0-2 in their last 12 games coming into this weekend. They had moved up to third place in the ECHL's Eastern Conference.
Jonathan Bombulie has covered the Baby Pens for the Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre since the team's inception in 1999. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.