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Bill Thomas Signs with Phoenix

One half of Nebraska-Omaha's high-scoring duo has decided to leave school early for a pro career. Bill Thomas signed a contract to play for the Phoenix Coyotes.

You really can't blame Thomas for signing now. He went undrafted in junior hockey, and is already 22 years old. If he would have come back to Omaha, he would have been taking a huge risk with his future because if he had had a less productive, he likely wouldn't have been offered nearly as much money by another NHL team. It's hard to imagine his stock being much higher than it is right now.

Wayne Gretzky was reportedly quoted as saying that Thomas could step into the NHL right away, although I personally feel that would a huge gamble. Zing! Too soon?

Anyway, Thomas certainly has the offensive talent Phoenix is looking for, but I think he could improve himself defensively and benefit from spending the rest of the year in the AHL to adjust to pro hockey and then trying to make the big club next season. Getting a few shifts per game with the Coyotes probably won't help him much.

Incidentally, other players that left college early once their season was over are doing extremely well in the pros. Matt Carle finally made it to St. Paul, albeit a week too late. Carle made his debut with the San Jose Sharks at the XCel Center against the Minnesota Wild, and scored goal with 15 seconds left in the game to put the icing on a 5-1 victory.

David Backes, who will be playing with the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL for the rest of the season is off to a hot start too. He scored in his first AHL game on former North Dakota goalie Karl Goehring to cap off a 3-0 Rivermen win, and was named the game's third star. In his second game, he scored the game-winning tally in the 8th round of a shootout to win the game for the Rivermen, earning the game's first star.