Maybe it was nerves.
Might’ve been the pressure.
But Philip Tomasino, admittedly, didn’t start the 2018-19 campaign the way he expected.
“I think at the beginning possibly I was gripping the stick a little too tightly. I couldn’t really bury my chances,” Tomasino explained. “Recently, I’ve started to find my groove a little bit more and started putting the puck in the back, and I’ve been make more plays than I was at the beginning of the year. It’s been really fun lately.
“Hopefully this progression continues.”
There’s been a stark contrast to how Tomasino’s season has started, and where it’s gone.
Of course, scoring funks are easy to get out of when your team adds the OHL’s leading goal-scorer and back-to-back 40-goal man Jason Robertson in a trade.
“Recently — I’d say the past 10 or 15 games — I’ve really improved my game all around. The first 10 games or so, I’d say, I really didn’t start the way I wanted to, to be honest with you. It’s a draft year, a big year for sure,” he said. “But playing along these guys makes it a lot easier.”
‘These guys’ are 2017 second-round selections Robertson (Dallas) and Akil Thomas (Los Angeles).
“I have the lucky chance to play alongside Akil Thomas and [newly arrived] Jason Robertson — two of the best players in the league. I’m trying to take advantage of that and roll with it,” he said. “Those guys are elite players in this league. It’s so so easy to play with them — just find open ice.
“Going from the start of the year as a third-line guy to now being a top-six guy, I’m trying to be an all-around guy, take care of our d-zone. I think we’re really skilled offensively. We have a lot of speed on our line and a lot of goal-scoring ability. It’s definitely fun for sure.”
Tomasino was held pointless in eight of his first 11 games and 11 of his first 16, but early November saw him go on a tear with a seven-game scoring streak. It’s pushed his totals to 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) in 31 games this season.
Last year, by comparison, Tomasino finished with (five goals, 19 assists).
Ice Dogs’ assistant general manager Brandon Currie said Tomasino has earned his place on such a high-profile line.
“For Thomas, he makes plays at such a high speed and high level, he needs linemates who can make plays at that speed and level — who can take those difficult passes where others might not be able to because they come so quickly,” he explained.
“The chemistry [Tomasino] and Akil and their ability to make plays so quickly is unlike any other pairing I’ve seen in the league this season. You add Jason [Robertson] to that line and those two can make plays and Jason can finish them quickly — they’re becoming the deadliest line in the OHL.”
But don’t think all that offensive firepower is concentrated on one line.
Niagara is loaded with four players in the league’s top-25 scorers: Robertson, Thomas, Kirill Maksimov (Edmonton), and Ben Jones (Las Vegas). The team also added blueliner Jacob Paquette (Nashville) in the Robertson trade.
Tomasino said he appreciates the message the team sent with the trade.
“It feels like you’re part of a special team. Ottawa and London are great teams — I think we’re just out to prove each and every night that your team is the best team in the league. I think our team is capable of winning it all,” he said. “Obviously we have an older team now and we’re trying to win a championship this year.
“That’s our goal.”
There are other goals Tomasino can accomplish along the way.
He was named to participate in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects game.
And in a perfectly 2018 way, he found about about his inclusion on social media.
“Actually I found out on my Twitter feed. One of my buddies sent me the roster and I was getting ready for a game, so I wasn’t paying attention to my phone. When I finally looked at my phone, I was like ‘Wow,” he said.
“I’ve heard so much about it and a couple of guys on our team have played in it. I’m really looking forward to it. Obviously it’s in Red Deer, so it’s a little bit out west, for sure, but it’s going to be fun.”
Tomasino is 23rd in Future Considerations’ Fall ranking for the 2019 NHL Draft.
Currie explained that he expects Tomasino to rapidly rise up some teams’ boards.
“He’s really taken off the last 20 games or so here — playing a big role in our top six on that right wing,” he said. “Every time he touches the puck we’re just waiting for something to happen. He’s so dynamic with the way he’s able to take the puck, skate it in, and find teammates with his creativity and vision.
“He’s a special player. He’s a kid who maybe is a little underrrated because he had a slow start, but as the year goes on he’s going to rise up those draft charts.
“In my opinion he’s the best 17-year-old skater in the OHL.”
It’s lofty praise.
But Tomasino isn’t focused on personal fanfare.
His next goal is bigger.
“My goal at the beginning of the year was to go to the Memorial Cup and win it,” Tomasino said. “I don’t have too many personal goals — I think I’m a team guy first. The personal side of things will take care of itself.”