Stumpy's kid gets attention

RYAN PYETTE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

Christian Thomas admitted he was nervous.

Not because this is his first OHL training camp.

Not because the London Knights first-round pick knows all eyes are on him.

Not because the preseason starts tonight on home ice against the Sarnia Sting.

"It was the press conference," said the 16-year-old, whose signing with the Knights was officially announced yesterday. "I've never been through one before."

Of course, he has seen them. His father, Steve Thomas, played 20 years in the NHL and when you spend quality time with the Toronto Maple Leafs, you've sat through a few question-and-answer sessions.

"He can look relaxed because he's done it thousands of times," Christian said with a grin. "For me, that was new."

When he finished a scrimmage yesterday, Thomas walked off the ice, had a camera click in his face and was asked for his autograph.

"Get used to it," said onlooker Sam Gagner, a former Knights star now with the Edmonton Oilers.

One thing Thomas has going for him is that he grew up around the game at the highest level. Of course, many of the Knights have that too, because the Hunters believe in puck pedigree.

There's also no question Thomas has a flair for dramatic timing.

As London assistant coach Pat Curcio talked about how the five-foot-nine, 165-pounder from Toronto was capable of playing a physical game, the kid hammered a big defenceman into the glass right in front of him.

"See," Curcio said. "I've been watching him play for years and he went from here (holding his hand at his waist) to here (holding it above his head). He improved so much.

"He was on a good Toronto Marlies midget team and all of a sudden, he was scoring big overtime goals for them and making things happen. They lost in the final of the OHL Cup (to the Toronto Junior Canadiens and Sudbury first overall pick John McFarland).

"He loves the game. Loves the rink. He's right into it."

Thomas, who scored 32 goals and 66 points in 52 games, spent the summer skating with Curcio in a group that included Daniel Erlich, another ex-Marlie. Last year's London first rounder, goalie Michael Zador, also played in the same minor hockey system.

"Erlich's a great guy," Thomas said. "I got to know him this offseason. He's fun."

If Thomas can make the kind of first impression Erlich did last season, the Knights will feel justified right away for making that draft pick.

"It took a while to get up to the speed of the guys out there," Thomas said. "I want to play physical and do the best I can. There's a lot to learn. But it's nice to be signed and know you're part of the team.

"I know there are a lot of good players here," he added, meaning ice time will be at a premium.

In the final scrimmage, Thomas scored twice on free breakaways awarded when the other team took penalties. The infractions were handed out by Knights forward Justin Taylor, serving as a guest official for the rookie contest.

London head coach Dale Hunter is always on the lookout for guys who can successfully convert a shootout attempt.

Thomas laughed and said he wasn't auditioning.

"I like to play with the puck, but I probably won't do much of that (fancy stuff) at this level," he said. "Not like Sam Gagner anyway -- I've seen his moves."

He has a couple of years to develop those tricks in practice at the JLC.

"I've been waiting for this time since the draft," he said. "I'm excited to be here."

PRESEASON HOCKEY

London vs. Sarnia

When: Tonight, 7:30 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre


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