Rise of Robert Thomas: New All-Star the catalyst of Blues surprise run

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ST. LOUIS – A Stanley Cup champion in his rookie season, Robert Thomas remains among the “elite” few still skating for the St. Louis Blues five years after their first and only title.

More discussion about the emphasized “elite” label will come later in this story, but let’s preface it by noting that Thomas will represent the Blues during this weekend’s NHL All-Star Game festivities in Toronto.

It’s his first All-Star selection, and it’s also his hockey homecoming. Thomas, an Ontario native, expects a group of up to 30 family members and close friends to attend Saturday’s All-Star Game.

“Our friends and family are super pumped, and I’m excited to be able to see them all,” Thomas told FOX 2 and others just before the All-Star break. “It’ll be a great event and something I definitely wanted to accomplish in my career. Pretty special for it to be in Toronto.”

Thomas leads the Blues in goals, assists, faceoffs won, and average ice time among forwards this season. He’s on track to shatter personal bests in all four departments and finish above a point-per-game pace for the second time in his career.

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While the standout stats likely padded his All-Star case, Thomas has found top form behind strong fundamental play, specifically with his passing and transition game.

JFresh Hockey, an NHL analytics Twitter page, ranks Thomas in the league’s Top 10 percentile for primary assists, chance assists, high-danger pass conversions, along with the Top 20 percentile for zone exits and zone entries.

Andy & Rono, a hockey charts Twitter page, ranks in the league’s Top 5 percentile of overall performers this season, along with the Top 10 percentile for high-danger assists, entry passes and offensive impact, plus the Top 20 percentile for carries and possession exits.

What might these qualities look like in a game? It could mean Thomas quickly generating offense after a sustained period of offensive pressure from opponents. Thomas might also lead a crafty sequence of plays to move defenders or goaltenders out of position and ultimately find a teammate with an open net.

On the scoresheets, that checks out as Thomas producing 39 points this season at even-strength, which ranks among the Top 10 of NHL skaters, and adding three more on the penalty kill.

His points have also come at critical times. Thomas has picked up a goal or assist in all but three of the Blues’ 26 victories through the All-Star break. He also has points in 10 of 12 Blues victories decided by a difference of one goal. 

Thomas, still not yet 25 with six seasons under his belt, feels his success comes from confidence he keeps building in his NHL career.

“You build more confidence year over year and with more games you play,” said Thomas. “I think it’s definitely at an all-time high coming into this year, and something you got to keep on building.”

Thomas brings stability in a time of transition for the Blues. In the 2023 calendar year, St. Louis parted ways with several key Stanley Cup pieces, missed playoffs for just the second time in a decade and fired title-winning head coach Craig Berube. 

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Leading up to that, the Blues made a deep commitment to Thomas, signing him and Jordan Kyrou to matching franchise-record 8-year, $65 million contracts in 2022. St. Louis officially named Thomas an alternate captain last year. 

With greater stature comes greater responsibility. Coaches feel comfortable using Thomas in high-leverage situations and adjusting his linemates as necessary for team chemistry.

“I think he’s becoming a more mature professional hockey player and understanding what he needs to do as a player to give our team an opportunity at success,” said Blues interim head coach Drew Bannister last month. 

“It’s hard not to like what Robert’s done most of the year,” said Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong in December. “Plays against the other team’s top players, top scorer, kill penalties, decent on face-offs, cares.” 

The Blues strung together a season-best five-game winning streak before a tough-luck shutout loss Tuesday rolling into All-Star break. During the winning streak, Thomas dished out seven assists and played as many as 24 minutes per game. 

Entering the All-Star break, the Blues are tied with the Nashville Predators for the last Wild Card playoff spot in the Western Conference. St. Louis has a 26-21-2 record for 54 points with two games in hand of Nashville. The surprise January run has helped the Blues stay competitive in the face of doubt with some analysts projecting a mere 4% chance of playoffs a few weeks ago. 

Taking the recent strides of Thomas and the Blues into consideration, let’s circle back to this concept. Is Robert Thomas elite? 

The “Robert Thomas is elite” talk has been a running gag among the Blues Twitter community for the last several years, but behind his recent improvements, there could be truth to that now more than ever.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines someone who is ‘elite’ as being “superior in quality, rank, skill.”

Bannister feels the first-time All-Star fits that bill. 

“We talk about elite players in the league, I think he’s there now,” Bannister told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Matthew DeFranks in December, citing examples of how he kept Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon in check during a recent divisional matchup. 

FOX 2 asked followers Thursday whether or not they considered Thomas elite based on the Merriam-Webster definition. Dozens of followers weighed in and roughly 70 percent stand by the elite label.

At the very least, his mindset seems to be in elite territory heading into All-Star break. 

Asked if he thought about some teammates planning trips to the beach during All-Star break versus embracing Canada’s cold winter, Thomas chuckled and replied, “A couple times. But I think, especially with [the All-Star Game] being in your hometown, it’s pretty cool. I would trade the beach for it any day.”

Thomas is currently not scheduled to compete in the NHL Skills Challenge on Friday, but he will participate in several workouts this weekend. He is set to play Saturday’s All-Star Game on Team McDavid, captained by Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid. 

Puck drop for the NHL All-Star Game is set for 2 p.m. CT Saturday on ABC and ESPN+. 


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