By Kyle Shohara
The Ducks ordered up some meat and potatoes when they acquired Nate Thompson from the Tampa Bay Lightning in the summer of 2014. Known for his faceoff prowess and relentless style of play, Thompson was as advertised in his first season in Anaheim.
With Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler slotted as the club’s top two centers, and blossoming rookie Rickard Rakell anchoring the third line, Thompson gave the Ducks a steady hand and veteran presence on the fourth line throughout the season. No glitz, no glamour.
Instead, Thompson put on his work boots and rolled up his sleeves in 80 of the team’s 82 games. He led the Ducks in hits (204) and ranked third among Anaheim forwards in blocked shots (52). His 80 games played (he missed two games with a lower-body injury, Feb. 25-27) were one shy of his career high 81 in 2013-14 with Tampa Bay. His 13 assists and 18 points were his highest totals since 2010-11 (also with the Lightning), when he earned 15 helpers and 25 points.
Thompson finished the regular season with the second-best faceoff win percentage (52.7) among team leaders, and in terms of overall minutes played on the penalty kill by forwards, finished second with 145:06, trailing only Kesler’s 178:54.
The proud Alaskan scored his first goal as a Duck on Halloween night in Dallas, one that served as the game’s overtime winner and a boost for the team, which had been shut out the night before in St. Louis. Though he would only go on to score four more before season’s end, his goal on March 15 vs. Nashville was the shining star of a four-goal third period outburst which blitzed the Predators in an eventual 4-2 victory at Honda Center.
A shoulder injury in the final game of the regular season on April 11 at Arizona forced Thompson to miss all four games of the First Round vs. the Winnipeg Jets, but the 30-year-old made his Ducks postseason debut in Game 1 of the Second Round vs. the Calgary Flames on April 30.
“Playoff hockey is the best hockey,” Thompson said prior to Game 1 of that series. “Playing in the playoffs is a special thing because everything is on the line every shift.”
He would go on to score his first goal of the postseason three nights later in Game 2, and finished the postseason with six points and a plus-5 rating in 12 games. Thompson established playoff career highs in goals (2), assists (4), points and plus/minus, and led the club in faceoff win percentage (58.6) and ranked third in faceoff wins (99).
It was later revealed that Thompson played with two labral tears in his left shoulder. He underwent surgery on June 11 and is still expected to be out for another 2-3 months.
Bum shoulder and all, Thompson gutted it out during Anaheim’s postseason run. His multi-point performance in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final serves as his highlight of the season, not only for his offensive production on the big stage, but also for his relentless determination and toughness.