Tampa Bay Lightning
Lightning’s Thompson tackles all assignments
No matter who stands behind the Lightning bench, when any situation arises, they can tap on the shoulder of Nate Thompson.
Need a penalty killed? Thompson is normally one of the first ones over the boards.
Need to check the opposing team’s top line? Thompson tackles the assignment with zest.
Need a fill-in on the top lines due to injury? Thompson can do that.
Need an extra attacker in the final minutes looking for a tying goal? Yup, Thompson can do that, too.
How about trying to protect that one-goal lead in the final minute? Thompson is generally tapped on the shoulder for that as well.
Thompson also gets the call nowadays as part of Tampa Bay’s five-on-three power play unit.
That sort of Renaissance Man skill set is a big reason why Thompson recently signed a four-year contract extension worth $6.4 million that will keep him in a Lightning uniform through the 2016-17 season.
“He’s been a good player for us since I joined the organization and a very versatile guy,’’ Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. “The more good players, the more flexible they are, the more versatile they are it just gives you a lot of options. You see all the injuries teams get and it’s important to have guys that can fill more than one spot.’’
It didn’t take long for new Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper to see exactly what Thompson can do, and will no doubt feel Thompson’s absence as he sits out the next two games due to suspension as a result of a check to the head of New Jersey’s Matt D’Agostini on Saturday.
During Saturday’s game, Cooper had Thompson in a second-line center role where he logged 22 minutes, 26 seconds of ice time. And it was Thompson’s trademark hustle that led to his seventh goal, splitting two New Jersey defenders to reel in a lob pass from Richard Panik and muscling his way to the net.
“He epitomized what we were (Friday), I thought,’’ Cooper said. “Eventually I started putting his line out against their top line . . . and they did a great job. He sits there on (penalty kills), he blocks shots. I think he lifted our team when he scored that goal and there was just no give-up in him. He was a stud.’’
As Cooper added after that, Thompson is the type of player that teams covet, and they can’t have enough of them on the roster. That’s why Thompson was on the radar of more than a few teams heading into this week’s trade deadline.
But for Thompson, he was happy to sign the contract extension and stay in Tampa for the foreseeable future. As far as his ability to adapt to any situation he gets tapped on the shoulder for, he sees it simple as doing whatever task he has asked.
“It’s always a confidence boost when you can help the team in different ways,’’ Thompson said. “I try to pride myself as a versatile guy who can play in different roles, chip in differently, whatever it may be . . . in a grind line or an offensive role. It’s just one of the things I’ve really tried to improve myself the last few years is try to take that next step as a player and keep improving every day.’’
Thompson has done that by ensuring he keeps to the strengths and foundation of his game intact and trying to add other elements along the way.
“I’ve always wanted to try to get better as a player and make more of an impact as a player each year,’’ he said. “I always try base my game on doing the little things first – faceoffs, blocking shots, all those things that got me into the league – and building off that.’’