As part of the AnaheimDucks.com annual Player Reviews, we will be featuring a different Ducks player throughout the coming weeks, in numerical uniform number order. Each review will include key stats, a highlight and an outlook for 2016-17.
By AJ Manderichio
An athlete’s recovery from injury is usually a long, arduous process filled with solitary skates and gym sessions. A return to health – and effective play – relies on the athlete’s ability to maintain his resolve and slog through the various ups-and-downs associated with the process.
Nate Thompson knows this feeling all too well.
When training camp opened last September, Thompson was often seen next to the glass at THE RINKS – Anaheim
ICE in shorts and a sweatshirt, dripping sweat from another grueling off-ice workout. The rugged center helped lead the Ducks to the Western Conference Final in the spring of 2015 despite playing with two labrum tears in his left shoulder, suffered after a collision with the boards late in the regular season against Arizona.
Thompson would watch – anxiously – as his teammates prepped for the upcoming season. Recovering from the first major surgery of his career wasn’t easy.
“Knowing I wasn’t going to be able to start the season was the hardest part,” said Thompson, who would finally join his teammates the first week of December. “The physical part wasn’t the hardest part, it’s the mental part of it, knowing that you’ve got a long way to go and you have to do the same things every day to get back.”
When he did return, Thompson brought his workmanlike effort to the team’s bottom six, switching between wing and center. He chipped in six points in 49 games, chief among them a key shorthanded tally late in the season. He collected 103 hits and finished the regular season second on the team with a 52.1% faceoff win percentage.
Like he did two seasons ago, Thompson became an important contributor during the team’s First Round series against the Nashville Predators. He scored two goals – including a highlight-reel, game-winning tally in Game 4 – and dished out an astounding 28 hits in the seven-game series.
An April matchup with the conference-leading Dallas Stars was must-see television for Ducks fans. Billed as a battle of conference powers, the Ducks needed two points to leapfrog the rival Los Angeles Kings and take over the top spot in the Pacific Division.
After a scoreless first period, the Ducks’ vaunted penalty kill took control in the middle frame. Thompson picked off a pass at center ice, deftly opening up Antti Niemi with a fake before scoring the game’s first goal.
His shorthanded goal was one of two on the night for the Ducks, who took down the Stars, 3-1.
Thompson’s mettle will once again be put to the test to begin the 2016-17 season. He tore his Achilles tendon during an offseason workout in early June and underwent surgery shortly after. Ducks Executive Vice President and General Manager Bob Murray expects Thompson to return “around the trade deadline” in early March.
When he returns, look for him to once again contribute in a bottom-six, energy role. Thompson is reliable on the penalty kill, and during his time in Anaheim, he seems to find the ice during the all-important late-game faceoffs. He’ll never be a dynamic offensive player, and those who study advanced stats will knock Thompson for low Corsi ratings. However, he does provide a necessary physical element – and an underrated two-way game – when he’s on the ice.
For now, Thompson will most likely be seen standing alongside the glass during training camp, watching – and waiting – for his chance to join his teammates on the ice. A fiery competitor, the long layoff will no doubt motivate him to return a stronger, more determined player.