VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Months of rehabilitation finally behind him, Nate Thompson found his fourth-line center job for the Ducks waiting for him after the All-Star break.
It was left there by Ducks coach Randy Carlyle, but Thompson wasn’t about to make any assumptions. That isn’t how he is wired.
“I’ve never had that mentality in this league,” Thompson said. “I’ve always had to earn everything I’ve gotten. I came into it where even if I was playing, I still had to show Randy and the rest of my teammates that I can play and I want to help contribute to the team.
“Make sure I earn that. That’s the way I went about it. That’s the way I’ll always go about it.”
Now well into his second month of action, Thompson is starting to feel as if his game is coming together. Having to come back from a torn Achilles’ suffered during summer training is no easy feat, especially during the season and particularly when a team starts its playoff push.
Entering Tuesday’s contest at Vancouver, Thompson had yet to register his first point in 24 games since making his season debut Jan. 31. Points, however, have never defined the veteran pivot’s impact on a hockey club.
It is killing penalties. Winning key faceoffs. Applying hits on opposing players whenever the moment is there.
“My approach coming into it was playing my game,” Thompson said. “Not trying to do too much. No trying to play outside myself. Do the things that make me successful as a player. Do the things that have kept me in this league for a long time.
“I just try to keep things simple. Make sure I’m doing the little things like skating and being physical. Just bring those little things to the team.”
Carlyle saw the addition of Thompson as a trade acquisition the salary cap-strapped Ducks were getting for nothing. He had never coached the 10-year veteran but had admired him from afar.
“But you never know when a player who loses six months of hockey with…