HAZELWOOD, MO. - Standing in the locker room of what he hopes are the stalls of future St. Louis Blues teammates, Robert Thomas finally realized he had taken that first step towards fulfilling that dream.
Thomas, the 20th overall pick by the Blues in the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft, was grinning from ear-to-ear during Blues prospects camp, which took place June 28-July 1.
"Obviously the first round's every child's dream," Thomas said. "It's been mine since I was a kid. It's honestly really a special feeling. I still can't really describe the feeling. It's just sort of a moment where you reflect on all the hard work you've done and how it pays off."
Thomas, a 6-foot-0, 188-pound center iceman who last season completed his second in the Ontario Hockey League with the London Knights and finished with 16 goals and 50 assists in 66 regular-season games and three goals, nine assists in 14 OHL playoff games, first realized that the NHL could become a reality when he was approached by 28 of the 31 teams at the NHL pre-draft combine. Interest rapidly grew and the Aurora, Ontario native did all he could to soak it all in.
"It was a pretty hectic time," Thomas said. "Obviously I met with a lot of teams. I really enjoyed the process. It was a lot of fun. Different teams had different approaches and stuff like that. It still sort of hasn't sunk in really. I'm still sort of living in the moment.
"At the draft, you're still sort of on Cloud-Nine. I think as the camp goes on more and more, it'll feel like a reality.
"I definitely knew that (the Blues) had a lot of interest. It's going to be a great fit if it was to happen. I was actually really happy to get my name called by them. It was one of the top teams I wanted to go to for sure. It's a great city and they've got great fans."
Thomas, 18, gives the Blues what they were looking for, and the center ice position is a place St. Louis has focused on building.
"I think he's a competitive two-way player. He's a pass-first centerman," Blues general manager Doug Armsrong said of Thomas. "I got to see him play a couple of times live but a lot on tape and I really love his vision, his creativity. He's a player that makes players around him better. I think that's obviously what all wingers want. 'You get me the puck and I'll do all the scoring.' I think he's that type of player, but he's also very responsible defensively.
"He comes from an organization, the London Knights, that are known just for winning. ... There's a lot of positives there."
So what do the Blues get with Thomas?
"I think I'm a really smart player," Thomas said. "I'm pretty good with the puck, I'm very creative. I like to make a lot of plays. I'm more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. I also think I'm a hard-nosed, reliable, defensive guy. That two-way game is pretty important, but I think also offensively, I'm pretty good and I'm pretty crafty with the puck."
Thomas, who said he grew up a fan of Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks but has drawn comparisons to Bo Horvat of the Vancouver Canucks.
"It's definitely a huge compliment," Thomas said. "I really thrive on that and I really hope it can come true, but obviously he's an all-star now and he's made his impact in the League and he's doing unbelievable in Vancouver there. If I was sort of to follow his footsteps, that would be pretty cool, but I've got a lot of hard work to do to become that."
Thomas was quickly pulled into the Blues-Blackhawks rivalry when his name was called by the Blues at United Center at the draft with a chorus of boos.
"I really liked it actually. I thought it was awesome. It was pretty neat," Thomas said. "I kind of knew it was coming when they were booing as I walked to the stage and got introduced. They were good after. They gave me a round of applause after, but it was a pretty fun feeling.
"Obviously the rivalry with Chicago's pretty cool."
Thomas will get to come to training camp in St. Louis in September with few expectations, and if he can leave a lasting impression along the way, all the better.
"I'm more so excited for the opportunity," Thomas said. "I sort of get to prove myself and show everyone what I'm all about. I'm more so excited for that. You're not really too sure what the future holds, but I'm excited for the challenge."
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