There is no question that Rangers 2010 second-round draft pick Christian Thomas
has a bright future in the NHL, and on Saturday night at Rexall Place at Edmonton, Thomas added to his reputation by scoring a beautiful goal in the first of two Red-White exhibition games at the Hockey Canada National Junior Team Summer Development Camp.
Playing for Team White, which beat Team Red 5-4 on a dramatic pair of late goals by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Thomas got his team's first goal on a remarkable shot just 30 seconds after Team Red had taken a 1-0 lead.
Sent out to provide some energy in response to the game's first goal -- a power-play blast from Team Red defenseman Jamie Oleksiak -- Thomas responded in style when he pounced on the rebound of a shot by his Oshawa teammate and Development Camp linemate Boone Jenner and managed to scored from the slot as he was being knocked to the ice by a Team Red defender.
Thomas, a right wing who scored 54 goals for the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League last season, showed his great skill as a shooter by finding the puck with his skate through traffic, kicking it over to his stick, and then keeping his balance just long enough to rifle a shot off the right post and into the net past Team Red goalie Mark Visentin. He was literally on one knee when he took the shot.
Earlier in the period, Thomas nearly gave his team a 1-0 lead when he fired a scoring chance just wide of Visentin. That came under heavy pressure when Visentin stopped and held a shot by Thomas' other linemate, 2011 Chicago first-round pick Phillip Danault.
Thomas also had some scoring chances in the wild third period and saw considerable ice time at even strength, 4-on-4, and the power play. He was also stopped by Team Red goalie Louis Domingue as the first shooter in an exhibition shootout held after the game. Thomas made a backhand move, but Domingue stayed with it. Team Red won the shootout 1-0 as Domingue denied all five shooters.
Thomas' presence among the 47 Canadian players at the Development Camp puts him in the running to be a member of Team Canada at the 2012 World Junior Championship tournament, which will be played on home soil in Edmonton and Calgary.
Saturday's Red-White game was a wild affair, as Team Red built up a 4-1 lead only to give up four unanswered goals in the third period and lose the game to Thomas' White squad.
Red went up 2-1 at 3:00 of the second period on a goal by 2011 first-round draft pick Jonathan Huberdeau. Red went on to make it 3-1 with a power-play goal from Mark Stone off a perfect feed from Huberdeau at 3:27 -- just nine seconds after Team White's Jenner went off for holding in the offensive zone. Stone then made it a three-goal lead open with his second straight goal -- on an even-strength blast from the top of the right faceoff circle at 5:01 of the third.
Just 62 seconds after Stone's second goal, Devante Smith-Pelly scored from the left circle to cut the lead to 4-2. The goal, at 6:03 of the third, was set up perfectly on a cross-ice pass from Seaon Couturier.
Team White had a chance to make it a one-goal game when Red's Oleksiak was called for interference at 11:12, and Quinton Howden cashed it, trimming the score to 4-3 when he was left alone in front of the Red net to the left of Louis Domingue and scored off a feed from Smith-Pelley at the 12:08 mark.
Nugent-Hopkins picked up the game-tying goal with only 3:28 left in the third period. Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Edmonton Oilers, picked up a loose puck amid traffic in the slot and backhanded a shot into the right side of the net.
Nugent-Hopkins did it again when he got the game-winner with only 20 seconds left in regulation. Nugent-Hopkins scored from the right faceoff circle, collecting the rebound of his own blocked shot and threading the needle past Domingue for the victory.
The teams will meet again at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday. Facebook members will have an opportunity to see the game for free via an offer on the Hockey Canada site
, the Blueshirts' 2011 first-round draft pick, was also in action on Saturday as he played for Team White in the first of two Blue-White scrimmages at the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp at Lake Placid, N.Y. Like Thomas, Miller is vying for a spot on his nation's World Junior team this week.
Miller's White squad was edged by Team Blue 4-3 on Saturday afternoon.
Jason Zucker gave Team White a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal from Justin Faulk and Charlie Coyle at 10:21 of the first period. White held its 1-0 lead through the first period despite being outshot 13-8.
The Blue team surged into the lead with a pair of second-period goals by Nick Shore and Austin Watson. Shore tallied on a power-play at 7:47, and Watson scored even-strength from xx Prince at the 9:53 mark to make it 2-1. White outshot Blue 16-10 in the middle period, but Blue made the game's only goaltending change, replacing starter Andy Iles with 2011 draftee John Gibson. Watson's goal came on the first shot taken at Gibson.
White tied the game at 1:55 of the third period, as Chase Balisy scored his first of two goals. Balisy then made it 3-2 at 11:33 of the third before T.J. Tynan tied it up with a goal for Blue at the 14:55 mark.
Only 44 seconds later, Watson scored the game-winner with 4:21 remaining in the third period, as Prince picked up his second assist, and Adam Clendening also assisted.
Goaltender Jack Campbell got the victory for Team Blue, stopping 29 of 32 shots. Blue outshot White 36-32 on the afternoon.
A second Blue-White game will be played on Sunday, followed by U.S. games against teams from Finland and Sweden later in the week.