Every once in a while, Nate Thompson will pull out a move that lets people know he’s not just a grinding, defensive forward.
It happened late in the game Tuesday against the Washington Capitals when Thompson skated down the left side and toe-dragged the puck past defenseman Dmitry Orlov. It was ironic that, in a game packed with high-skill players on both sides, Thompson pulled it off.
“Every now and then,” Thompson said. “Sometimes I’ve got to show some skill off. It was one of those things where the D-man overcommitted and I kind of reacted and somehow a toe drag came out.”
Thompson otherwise made his usual mark with some crucial penalty killing that helped the Kings withstand a Capitals charge. His solid play at both ends symbolizes his comfort level with the Kings since he was acquired last month from the Ottawa Senators. It’s been a stable transition for Thompson, whose defensive forte fits in with the Kings and that of the more rugged play in the Western Conference.
“I think I knew what I needed to bring when I came here,” Thompson said. “I think the style of play kind of fits my style of play too. I think that heavy game in the Western Conference, the way they play [means be] strong defensively, don’t give up much.”
Thompson gives the Kings another strong penalty killer at their disposal. His extra shifts short-handed against Washington meant that he had more ice time than third-line wing Adrian Kempe.
Thompson also solidifies the fourth-line center spot. He’s won 58% of faceoffs in 11 games with the Kings, a continuation of a career strength that he first learned from minor league assistant coach Rob Murray and former New York Islanders teammate Richard Park. Teammate Jake Muzzin said those little things add up.
“He’s came and just fit right in,” Muzzin said. “He’s tough to play against. He’s smart. He wins a lot of battles and faceoffs. He’s a key piece, a guy that you need to go a long way.”
Thompson already knew Muzzin and some other teammates from skating sessions in the summer, which made it easier to adjust to his new team. His fiancée is from the area and the two will soon settle in the South Bay.
“Whenever you can know the guys personally, it makes it a lot easier coming into the locker room,” Thompson said. “But at the same time, it’s a great group of guys, and it’s been real easy to fit in.”
The Carolina Hurricanes have asked the Kings for permission to talk to assistant general manager Michael Futa. Carolina this week announced it will replace general manager Ron Francis. The request was first reported by The Athletic.
An important member of the Kings’ scouting and hockey operations departments, Futa has been on other teams’ radar for a general manager position.
Kings coach John Stevens has some difficult lineup decisions with all his players available, and that meant scratching Tobias Rieder on Thursday.
“It’s tough taking guys out,” Stevens said. “It’s basically a day-to-day thing based on health, based on chemistry, lines, and based on performance.”
Rieder was brought in for his speed and scoring touch. He averaged 14 goals in three full seasons with the Arizona Coyotes. Thursday was the second time in his young career that he was a healthy scratch.
“Obviously you want to play,” Rieder said. “But it happens to everyone. You just stick with it. As a new guy coming in, you’re trying to see where you fit in. Obviously it takes a little bit of time, but everybody’s working toward it.”
VS. ST. LOUIS
When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
On the air: TV: FSW; Radio: 790
Update: St. Louis is 1-7-2 in its past 10 games and has scored 14 goals in that span. The Blues recently lost defenseman Jay Bouwmeester to a hip injury and backup goalie Carter Hutton has a neck injury that forced an emergency recall of Ville Husso.
Follow Curtis Zupke on Twitter @curtiszupke