by Kevin Zalaznik | AHL On The Beat Archive
At the end of the 2013-14 season, Paul Thompson was tied for 288th in the American Hockey League with eight goals. What a difference a year makes, because with three games remaining in the regular season, the Albany Devils winger has a chance to be the league’s top goal scorer.
As of Wednesday afternoon, he is second with 33 goals, trailing Grand Rapids’ Teemu Pulkkinen, who has 34 tallies. Pulkkinen is currently on recall, playing for Detroit.
Thompson has found a new role within the New Jersey Devils organization. He started his full-time career with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2011-12 and had a 20-goal season in 2012-13.
However, last year his numbers dropped. Playing in a third and fourth-line role, he managed just four goals in 39 games before being traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets and assigned to Springfield. In 30 contest with the Falcons, he had four goals.
Despite the scoring slowdown, Thompson believed those experiences helped craft him into the player he is today.
“At times it’s frustrating, but you realize it’s going to help you in the long run,” he said. “You are going to become a better player when you learn some of those things that make you an effective third, fourth-line guy. Learning some of those little habits my first couple of years have helped me this year."
As a free agent this offseason, Thompson signed an AHL contract with Albany. It was a fresh start for the Methuen, Mass. native, and a chance he hoped would lead one day to the National Hockey League.
"I just wanted to put myself in a position to play in the NHL and have that opportunity,” Thompson said. “My goal was to come in, work hard, and kind of see where things went. New Jersey gave me a good opportunity with the AHL contract. I came into camp in pretty good shape and I was feeling pretty good. I think I earned an opportunity to play a lot down here and get the chance. Luckily, I was able to take advantage of it."
His latest goal — a power-play tally at Binghamton Friday — moved him into the top spot on the franchise’s single-season goals list. He past Chris Minard, who potted 32 tallies in 2006-07.
Thompson has played on Albany’s top line for the majority of the season. It’s a spot he obtained very early on, earning the trust of the coaching staff.
"I don’t want to say we were just going to put him in that role, but he came into training camp and started to score and show signs that he can score right away," said head coach Rick Kowalsky. "To his credit, he started the season with four goals and has grabbed that number one spot and never let it go."
Thompson was one of two Devils to be selected to the 2015 AHL All-Star Classic roster. He joined linemate Joe Whitney. Both Massachusetts born, the two had developed a friendship even before Thompson signed with the Devils.
"He’s opportunistic,” Whitney said of Thompson. “He doesn’t need too many chances to get the puck in the net. He’s been a big part of the reason we’ve had some success this year."
Despite of his production – like three hat tricks this season — and the AHL All-Star selection, Thompson steered the conversation to his personal life when asked what the most rewarding part of the season has been.
"It’s been an unbelievable year for me so far. My family, we had a baby, so that was probably the biggest thing that happened to me this year. The last six, seven months have been amazing with that and with hockey going well and just being in a good spot with everything. I’m getting married this summer. Everything is kind of a happy a place.”
Thompson will be in even a happier place if the Devils can manage to win-out and sneak into the 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs.
“Hopefully, we can make the final push here and get into the final spot in the playoffs,” he said. “Obviously, that’s where you want to be."