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UNH's Thompson back at home

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 18. 2018 10:00PM
Paul Thompson of Derry and the University of New Hampshire has returned to the Florida Panthers after a year in the Vegas Golden Knights organization. (USA TODAY Sports)

When NHL free agency began, Paul Thompson garnered interest from a few other teams but none could offer him what the Florida Panthers did.

Florida presented the forward from Derry, who spent last season in the Vegas Golden Knights organization, the chance to come back home.

Thompson, 29, signed a two-year, two-way contract with the Panthers on July 2. The University of New Hampshire product spent the 2016-17 season with Florida, playing in 21 games for the Panthers and another 51 for their AHL affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds.

While Thompson wants to begin next season on the Panthers’ opening day roster, he would be comfortable in Springfield. Thompson knows many of the Thunderbirds coaches and players from his first stint with Florida, and lives with his wife and two children in nearby Enfield, Conn.

“The chance to play pro hockey and play where we call home right now is a good opportunity,” Thompson said. “We were hoping to have an opportunity to come back. You just never know. For us, it was a perfect fit for our lifestyle and where we are now and where I am now at this point in my career.”

The Pinkerton Academy graduate spent last season with the Chicago Wolves, Vegas’ AHL affiliate. Thompson played in all 79 games for the Wolves, recording 38 points (24 goals, 14 assists).

While he said he only spent one day with Vegas, Thompson enjoyed being with the organization as it marched to the Stanley Cup Final during its inaugural campaign.

The excitement from what the Golden Knights were accomplishing trickled down to the Wolves during the season, Thompson said. Chicago went 42-23-7-4 in the regular season, winning the Central Division before falling to Rockford in the first round of the playoffs.

“It was fun to watch and see how they came together as a team and we brought that mentality in Chicago,” Thompson said. “A lot of people didn’t expect they’d be a good team but they outworked everybody and came together in the true aspect that you’d call a team. That’s something I learned there was that expectations for the season don’t mean anything.”

While Thompson did not get the opportunity to do so in Vegas, he feels he can play at the NHL level. Florida felt the same way during its 2016-17 campaign, during which Thompson logged three assists for the team. Thompson also played in three games with the New Jersey Devils during the 2015-16 season.

To make Florida’s opening day roster, Thompson said he has to work hard and show he can provide what the team needs out of a third or fourth-line forward in training camp.

“Bring the grittiness, play hard in exhibition games, play hard in training camp, do the little things a grinder or role player does,” Thompson said. “If I get games in the NHL, that will probably be the role I’m going to play and I’m more than happy doing that. Even in the American (Hockey) League, I try to bring that mindset even if I’m in a different role or more of a scoring role.

“For me, the game doesn’t really change….Whatever (role), my compete level, work and ability has to be the same at either level.”

If Thompson begins the season in Springfield, he wants to be a leader and a voice in the locker room. He will also try to help some of his younger teammates adjust to the pro level and develop their skills.

“At this point, I take pride in helping some of those bubble guys or even guys that might be a few years away build details in their game that makes them better players, more complete players and hopefully NHL players is something I hope to do,” Thompson said.

The Thunderbirds did not qualify for the AHL playoffs in either of their first two campaigns, something Thompson hopes to help change next season. Springfield finished second-to-last in the Atlantic Division each of the past two years.

“I know the team works the right way and is right there and is about to take the next step,” Thompson said.

Thompson will look to provide veteran experience and leadership if he is in Springfield but his goal is to be in the NHL. Thompson wants Florida to view him as someone it can call up when needed and can be a leader at either the NHL or AHL level.

“Like everybody else playing pro hockey, I want to play in the NHL as much as possible,” Thompson said. “It’s something that you always strive for no matter how old you are and if that dream is over, then it might be time to not play anymore.”

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