Name: Philip Tomasino
Team: Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
Stats: 67 games played, 34 goals, 38 assists, 72 points, 32 PIMs, +37 plus/minus rating
NHL Central Scouting ranking: 14th (North American Skaters)
Comparable NHL player: Jaden Schwartz
There’s at least one for every draft. A center picked at No. 20 or after in the first round who went on to torch opponents, making you wonder how anyone could’ve missed such a sure thing. In 2017, way too many teams missed the boat on Robert Thomas (picked at No. 20), and now he’s a key cog for a team battling in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Florida is one of the sharpest teams when it comes to drafting centers. You already know Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck, but watch out for Henrik Borgstrom from 2016. The year before, it was Travis Konecny and Colin White. The year before that, teams had their pick of the litter with guys like Nick Schmaltz, Kasperi Kapanen, and Adrian Kempe.
Expect to hear the names from 2018 — Rasmus Kupari and Joe Veleno (both are putting up blistering post-draft seasons) — for a long time. And even though I don’t have a time machine, I suspect that the 17-year-old, 6-foot Canadian IceDog Philip Tomasino will be another. Unless he gets picked before then, of course.
Let’s focus on what makes Tomasino one of those “obvious in hindsight” picks by zeroing on some information. For one, nobody handed Tomasino anything. Not on a team like Niagara that had three 100+ point forwards: over-ager Ben Jones, Akil Thomas, and (later) Jason Robertson. In his first 11 games, he had only six points due to sheltered minutes and minimal-to-no power play time. Thirty of his 34 goals were at even strength. Then there’s what you might call offensive influence. Evan Oppenheimer has his own metric for looking at goals and primary assists to assess how much offense a player generates on his own accord. Tomasino again scores highly here.
But does he pass the eye test?
Well, information has to be recorded from somewhere, and I can’t imagine any number, stat, or raw pocket of information that was taken from anything other than Tomasino’s on-ice actions, but yes. He does pass the eye test because how he plays is the cause of what he’s done. One of the things that separates Tomasino from the rest of the pack is speed. Let’s look at this (clip compliments of The Athletic).
It’s not just the speed. A lot of guys are fast. But speed can be neutralized consistently with the right gap. However, look at both plays. Both defensemen in these clips are actually playing a somewhat decent gap. They’re a little too aggressive for an opponent exiting the zone, but these are young players facing elite acceleration (it’s worth noting that the second player is Sean Durzi, one of the Memorial Cup’s best players). Tomasino cuts around them by making a chip to himself. At that point, the blueliner isn’t just defending speed. He’s defending the puck skills to chip to yourself, the speed to threaten, the intelligence to plan it, and the vision to execute. It’s a play he has used to jailbreak himself out of the zone on more than one occasion.
You can’t just be fast. You have to play fast. There’s a crucial difference there, and that’s what Tomasino gives you: the ability to use his speed to inform his other talents (such as puck handling and creativity) in order to keep the play moving without losing momentum or giving the opposing team time to reset.
In terms of shooting, Tomasino is a very good shooter. He doesn’t have a big one-timer, and can’t threaten from a distance, but he has a quick release. The key to his goal-scoring ability is movement — a brief pause, a quick feint, or that extra step to position for a better release as he’s moving are what allow him to beat goaltenders. It helps that he’s a crisp, tape-to-tape passer, as seen here:
It’s one thing to see the open man, but it’s another to find him, and have him owe you a beer afterwards. The fact that Tomsasino can make these crisp passes on the move, and through traffic is just another feather in his offense-heavy cap of skills.
Although Tomasino is listed as a center (and that’s likely his more natural position), he played the bulk of his season at wing. Oddly enough, his time at center was sometimes spent in a shutdown role, further cementing his ability to play an all-around game. He also spent time on the penalty kill, which says a lot about the maturity of his game, and the trust coaches have in him to play these high pressure situations. There are a lot of very good players that will likely be picked before him, such as goal-scoring wizards like Cole Caufield and Arthur Kaliyev, and cerebral playmakers like Matthew Boldy and Trevor Zegras. And yet the more information we learn about Tomasino, the less he looks out of place among these elite names:
So is there a catch?
Nothing significant. Tomasino’s a well-rounded player, having switched different roles in different positions, and doing so at an elite pace. There are certain things he won’t be able to get away with at the NHL level. The “Barzal Pass” obviously won’t work all the time, and he’s not a physical player, but he’s such a cerebral player that it rarely becomes a factor. The biggest criticism might be that his ceiling is not as high as the others who will be available. He’s a high-level collection of essential traits rather than a specific weapon of production. As always with the draft, it’s also a question of whether or not someone is better (especially in a draft that I expect will get goofy after pick No. 8).
If Tomasino were just a center, Dallas might be shy to pick him, given Roope Hintz’s rise (and the fact that Ty Dellandrea is still in the system), but he’s not. Unless they’re on the “get Miro Heiskanen a proper partner” route which... isn’t a great way to draft. Especially since Heiskanen performed at an elite level no matter who over-performed extremely low expectations next to him. The Stars still lack a gifted playmaker with a deep toolbox of offensive skills and high IQ, and Tomasino is exactly that.