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Thome looks to keep rising in Blue Jackets goalie pipeline

North Dakota netminder gets to meet with childhood idol in Columbus

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

Peter Thome played just about every sport growing up, but around age 12, something about being a hockey goaltender spoke to him. 

The Minneapolis native joined his first organized hockey league at that age, and at the time his hometown Minnesota Wild were backstopped by Finnish standout Niklas Backstrom. 

Fast-forward about a decade and Thome, a 2016 draft pick of the Blue Jackets, is back in Columbus for his fourth prospects development camp with the organization. And one of the people on hand to help out the team's young goalies is Backstrom, who spent last year playing back in his home country. 

"That's really cool to meet with him," Thome said Thursday. "I texted my dad and he was like, 'No way, that's so cool. Can you get his autograph?'" 

With that, Thome laughed. 

"Maybe at the end of camp," he added. 

CBJ DEVELOPMENT CAMP: All you need to know

It's a fun, chance encounter for Thome, who is sometimes the forgotten man in the Blue Jackets goaltending pipeline. 

Latvian prospect Elvis Merzlikins has finally come over from Europe and is signed for next year, and he could join with Joonas Korpisalo to comprise the Blue Jackets goaltending duo for the coming season. Matiss Kivlenieks has spent the past two years with Cleveland of the AHL, while Finnish prospect Veini Vehvilainen has been named his home country's goalie of the year the past two seasons. Add in hulking young Russian goalie Daniil Tarasov and there's no shortage of young backstops in the organization. 

Yet Thome has his own solid set of skills and plays at one of the premier college programs in the country at North Dakota. At 6-4, 205 pounds, he takes up his fair share of net, and Thome has had some success at the college level. 

Tweet from @JacketsInsider: Goalie things happening #CBJ

As a true freshman, he backed up national championship-winning goalie Cam Johnson and had a .910 save percentage and 2.31 goals-against average in 2017-18. 

But last year was a bit of a tough year. He didn't give up a ton of goals, posting a 2.71 GAA, but saved just .880 percent of shots. Thome also missed more than two months, first because he lost the starter's net and then because of a broken finger suffered on a weird bounce at practice.  

Upon his return, though, Thome showed some progress. He started the Fighting Hawks' last eight games of the year and gave up just 17 goals in that span -- just over two per game -- while posting a save percentage of .903.  

"I think overall I wasn't thrilled with my season, personally and as a team," he said. "We didn't accomplish what I wanted to. I got a chance to get back in there at the end of the year and thought I played pretty well, gave the team a chance to win, did what a goalie needs to do for a team.  

"It was a little bit higher note than maybe the beginning of the season, but that leaves a lot of work in the summer to get you back to where you need to be." 

Thome said he expected to be the team's starting goalie last year after Johnson left, but his difficult start to the season led to struggles with confidence. He admits he didn't handle the adversity as well as he should have, but looking back, it was a learning experience. 

For example, going into this upcoming season at UND, he's not getting concrete goals. Instead, it's just about improving a little bit each day and helping the program get back to achieving its lofty expectations. 

"I'm not really looking that far ahead," he said. "I did that last year. I went into the year as the incumbent guy. I was worried about, 'I gotta do this, I want to be up for the Richter (Award) at the end of the year.' And I forgot about stopping the puck.  

"I am trying to eliminate all that and focus on the day to day, focus on my game and let the rest take care of itself." 

Dunne Deal: There was no green-and-gold bus that traveled down I-90 from upstate New York to the Blue Jackets' development camp, but it feels like there could have been. 

Five different players from Clarkson University are on the team's development camp roster in forwards Joshua Dunne and Devin Brosseau as well as defensemen Greg Moro, Mike Underwood and Connor McCarthy. 

All bring size to the table -- ranging from the 6-foot-7 McCarthy to the 6-1 Brosseau -- and all happen to share an alma mater with Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen and director of player personnel Chris Clark. 

"I feel like I'm at home right now; all the guys are here," Dunne joked. "It's awesome to see (Kekalainen and Clark) and see what they've done. It's nice to be able to relate to them with Clarkson a little. You can talk to them about it and understand and feel the same way they did." 

Dunne, who had 14 goals and 23 points in 32 games last year as a freshman, is also the brother of current Ohio State women's hockey player Jincy Dunne and former Buckeye Jessica Dunne. Jincy has a lot of USA Hockey experience, was a first-team All-American last year and could be a future Olympian. 

Joshua has been able to see Jincy during his trip, and with the Columbus ties, it's fair to say the Dunnes -- who are originally from the St. Louis area -- know their way around the town. 

"It's really nice that she's right down the road," said Joshua, who is being held out of on-ice activities because of an injury. "I'm pretty familiar with this area because I come to visit her a lot. She loves the city. It's a great city and a great fan base they have here. It's a top organization, I think." 

What's in a name? Johnny Walker and Brayden Guy have probably heard it all before. 

For obvious reasons, Walker's name tends to stand out (right now, you could call him Johnny Walker, Blue Jacket). But Guy has an underrated last name, as the Brampton, Ontario, native and Sarnia Sting forward looks a bit anonymous as he skates around with "GUY 43" on the back of his white practice sweater. 

Both free agents invitees have some pretty good potential, though. Walker led college hockey in goals per game last year, racking up 23 in 32 games while leading Arizona State to its first NCAA tournament, while Guy had a 19-13-32 line with the Sting despite not turning 18 until March 3. 

What's next? The Blue Jackets prospects will have an on-ice workout in the morning starting at 10 a.m., then the annual 3-on-3 Stinger Cup tournament will take place from 4-6. Fans are invited to attend and take part in the Blue Jackets block party taking place at the Ice Haus and on McConnell Plaza outside.  

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