Back with Senators, Thomson has his eye on an NHL return

Photo: Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

Lassi Thomson took the scenic route back to the Belleville Senators.

Thomson, a 23-year-old defenseman, went to the Anaheim Ducks via waivers Oct. 1 after the Ottawa Senators had attempted to assign him to Belleville.

“Went for a little vacation to California,” Belleville head coach David Bell quipped about the prospect.

Going through the waiver process went beyond a vacation for Thomson, though.

“It’s 24 hours you’re just waiting, waiting, waiting,” Thomson said. “There’s not much information for you. And then as soon as somebody claims you, you just get a call and get on your way.”

A flight out to Anaheim, a quick meet-and-greet, one full practice with the Ducks, and two NHL preseason games followed as Thomson prepared to settle down in California.

Then came a record-scratch moment with another call eight days later. Thomson found himself back on an eastbound plane after Ottawa reclaimed him on waivers. The Senators were then able to send the 2019 first-round pick directly to Belleville without putting him through waivers again.

“A lot was going through my mind at that point,” said Thomson, who had plenty of time for thinking as he flew back east. “I know where I’m going. I know the guys. I know the guys were happy. It was great to be back at the rink.”

One of those familiar faces was his Bell. Before moving up to the head-coaching role midway through last season, Bell had been an assistant coach handling the Belleville defense corps, and worked closely with Thomson. After Thomson’s assignment to Belleville, Bell wanted him to “erase that week” out west. He gave Thomson a couple of days to clear his head and get ready to dig in with Belleville.

And he has. Through six games this season, Thomson has paired a goal with an assist. And after an active offseason reshaping the Ottawa organizational depth chart, the B-Sens look solid already. After taking three of four points in a two-game home set with Toronto, the B-Sens are off to a 3-2-0-1 start going into a two-game road weekend that opens at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Friday.

Going to Belleville wasn’t Thomson’s goal, but it is a good launching pad.

“Every one of them to a man that came down was disappointed,” Bell said of Ottawa’s training-camp cuts. “And not just lip service… ‘Hey, we have a good group here. I want to be part of a winning team. I want to get started here. And you know if I play well, [an NHL recall will] look after itself.’”

Said Thomson, “I’m happy to be here with this team. I know all the guys, and it’s great to be back. We’re going to have a great team here, so it’s awesome to be a part of this team.”

Last season Thomson played 56 games with Belleville and ranked second among defensemen with 33 points (seven goals, 26 assists); those seven goals led all B-Sens blueliners as well. There is that big shot, the mobility, and an ability to move the puck that Ottawa likes and made him the 19th overall pick in 2019. But after dressing for 16 games with Ottawa in 2021-22, he only played two NHL games last season. Now it’s time to build on that foundation, build the consistency and defensive reliability that a full-time NHL role demands. Thomson knows that.

“We talked more my defensive game,” Thomson said of his discussions with Bell. “That’s going to be a big part of getting me back up in the NHL. I want to be part of that team (Ottawa), and that can happen if I can make my defensive game better.”

So what can Thomson take from those eight days, the back-and-forth, the uncertainty? Maybe it was just a detour, but Thomson has tried to take something from it anyway.

“It’s hard,” Thomson acknowledged, “but for a young guy I feel like it’s a learning point. Everything can happen, and you try to still enjoy the game as much as possible. You’re not going to play long, so when you get a chance to play hockey, it’s an opportunity.”