Defenseman Ben Thomas was finally able to crack the NHL this season, skating in five games with the Tampa Bay Lightning in his fifth pro season. However, it was too little too late in terms of NHL experience, as Thomas qualified for Group 6 unrestricted free agency. Yet, it seems as though the interest overseas is greater than any NHL interest that Thomas may have hoped for. Swedish source Expressen reports that the SHL’s Leksands IF has been negotiating with Thomas as they seek a top pair defenseman.
Thomas, 25, was a fourth-round pick of the Lightning in 2014. A productive two-way defenseman in the WHL, Thomas largely translated that ability to the AHL, recording 16+ points in each of his first four seasons with the Syracuse Crunch. However, he took a big step last season, recording nine points in only 16 games, not to mention a +8 rating. After years of being the “next man up” that never actually got called up, Thomas finally earned his chance with five games with Tampa Bay. While he was held scoreless, Thomas contributed defensively and his other underlying numbers were strong in the small sample size. His play across both leagues was at least enough to garner attention from overseas.
Expressen notes that Leksands is actually looking for two top defensemen and have talked to several former NHLers in addition to Thomas. This includes Anton Lindholm, who recently signed in the KHL, and Gustav Olofsson, who like Thomas played on NHL contracts last season. Joe Morrow and Matt Donovan are also in the mix. With a number of notable names on their list of candidates, it is clear that Leksands is serious about adding talent to the blue line. It also stands to reason that Leksands push to sign Thomas, described as “extensive”, could also be drawing the attention of other SHL contenders. Perhaps the opportunity in Sweden, both financially and role, is actually attracting Thomas away from a two-way NHL contract.