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Wayne Thomas and the Rookie Tournament

by Alison High / San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks rookie tournament concluded on Tuesday night with the Anaheim Ducks taking the three-game series, 2-1, over the Sharks at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. While this fresh crop of anxious youngsters fought to make an impact on the games, a veteran group of experienced Sharks scouts and coaches evaluated their skill and potential. If these rookies want a job with the “Big Club,” then nailing their performance at the rookie tournament is the best way to get attention.

One set of eyes watching the action was Vice President and Assistant General Manager Wayne Thomas. For nearly four decades, this veteran hockey executive has experienced the game at all levels: player, assistant coach, head coach, advance scout and executive scout. This makes him a hockey guru.

Thomas spent the past four days in Las Vegas evaluating players like 2002 first round draft pick Mike Morris, 2004 fifth round draft pick Steven Zalewski and 2007 third round draft pick Timo Pielmeier. According to Thomas, the rookie tournament is the perfect measuring stick for judging these athletes.

“For the young players, it’s a nice progression,” Thomas said. “They play against their peers, all first-year pros. It gives them some confidence so they have a bit of a foundation to go up against the veteran players at next week’s training camp.”

Most of these rookies haven’t played against players with the high level of skill and talent that was present at this year’s tournament. Starting on Saturday, they’ll be skating with seasoned veterans when their camp begins.

“These are the best players of their college teams or their junior teams so it makes sense that the level of play would increase,” said Thomas. “Besides the kids that played in training camp last year or the one or two that played in the American Hockey League, it’s probably the highest level they’ve played in.”

Goaltenders receive special attention from Thomas, a former NHL goaltender who was a member of the 1972-73 Stanley Cup Champion Montreal Canadiens. Part of his role within the Sharks organization includes working with goaltenders on a daily basis.

Thomas, who’s also the general manager for the team’s top development affiliate in Worcestser, said the Sharks work hard to prepare their rookie netminders for the NHL life.

“We put them through drills the week before camp and then they get into scrimmage and experience game situations at the rookie level,” Thomas said. “Then they get to play in training camp scrimmages and hopefully some get into exhibition games against NHL players. It’s a great three- or four-week process to help them prepare for the regular season.”

Veterans will undergo physicals on Friday and take to the ice as a team on Saturday. Last year, two rookies (Devin Setoguchi and Torrey Mitchell) made the Opening Night roster. As for this year, not even Thomas knows who will be on the bench for the Oct. 9 opener against Anaheim.
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