Some big shoes to fill, but for now at least 25 year old Bill Thomas is the newest Pittsburgh born representative of the Penguins.
An interesting signing, as Thomas could be a fringe NHL player for the Pens, or provide some scoring at the AHL level and be a decent mid-season callup option.
Thomas, a 6'1 185 winger, went undrafted to the NHL but still had a great career at the USHS and NCAA level. Phoenix signed him late in the 2005-06 season and Thomas had a decent go in a short stint [9 games, 1 goal, 2 assists]. Things seemed to continue to go well for Thomas, he scored 33 points [13 goals, 20 assists] in 47 games in San Antonio and was named to the AHL all-star game, of which he didn't participate since he was in Phoenix. That year for Phoenix, in 24 contests Thomas had 8 goals and 6 assists. That's a pace for 27 goals in a full season.
The wheels of his development were spinning last season, as Thomas was an "up and down" player between Phoenix and San Antonio. Most of it was down, as he only got 7 games in the NHL (pointless). The AHL numbers were good, he was 2nd on the team (to former Penguin Matt Murley) with 52 points [24 goals, 28 assists] in 75 games.
Bill Thomas became a Group VI unrestricted free agent. The definition in it's simplest form for a Group VI UFA is: it's for relatively younger guys who haven't played a certain number of NHL games (Ryan Lannon, Connor James and Nathan Smith qualified for it from the Pens). The purpose is to give guys who are about 25 and spent most of their careers in the minors a chance to find a fresh start in a new organization.
A knock on Thomas has been that he's not strong enough on the puck and while a skilled player, is he skilled enough to be a consistent top 6 forward every night at the NHL level? The answer to that seems to be in the negative. We still think Thomas is a good signing, he's young, shown flashes of great play in the NHL and could conceivably make the roster.