This is part of a free agency article highlighting all available free agents before the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline. This section highlights Thomas Di Pauli. If you’re interested in reading the entire article, click here.
Age: 26, 27 on April 29th
Weight: 187 lbs
2019-20 stats: 0 points in 2 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL), 8/9/17 in 39 games with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (AHL)
When the Pittsburgh Penguins signed Thomas Di Pauli in 2016, it was salt in the wound for Washington Capitals fans. The team that had just eliminated them once again en route to the Stanley Cup had now stolen a prospect that declined to sign with them.
Di Pauli was drafted in 2012, but it was his NCAA career that drew eyes. He began to produce well during his final two years, finishing his senior year with the University of Notre Dame with 32 points in 37 games. His performance was good enough for the team to name him their top offensive player that year, even on a team with NHL forwards Anders Bjork, Jake Evans, and Steven Fogarty.
Unfortunately, things just didn’t go up from there.
At 23 years old, he was struggling to make an offensive impact in the AHL. During his second year, Di Pauli was getting better, but he was failing to become a consistent producer at the AHL level. When things were looking up for him, obstacles were constantly thrown his way. He had back surgery during his rookie year to correct issues that were plaguing him since college. He suffered broken bones, he was taken out by illegal hits.
Ultimately, his development didn’t go as planned, and he didn’t get a full opportunity to prove himself.
A plethora of injuries allowed Di Pauli to make his NHL debut with the Penguins. He played two games in the bottom-six, but it wasn’t enough to allow him to stick. He finished the season sidelined in the AHL with an undisclosed injury.
His injury troubles mean that I’m not sure he’s out because no one wants him. I think it’s very possible that he’s taken the year off to fully recover from injury and then go from there. It would be a smart move, not too different from what Rourke Chartier, now of the Toronto Marlies, did to get back to 100% after a series of concussions.
However, I didn’t receive confirmation on any of that, so as a result, I’ll still include him on this list.
Di Pauli’s greatest asset is speed. Very few players have the same level of speed that Thomas Di Pauli has, it’s going to be his key to the NHL.
Di Pauli is also solid defensively, he was known for his two-way game in college, and it was still a strength in the AHL. He’s able to use his speed and smarts to become a tough player to get past offensively.
He also uses that combination of smarts and speed to be a fierce forechecker, something that I’d love to see him do more when healthy.
He’s just not consistent enough offensively, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a fault of his own. He’s been dealt a terrible hand with injuries, and the fact that he’s even played as soon as he did after that back surgery is amazing in itself.
Ultimately, I hope that Di Pauli is taking the year off to recover, but if he is available, he could be a good bet for an AHL team.
I think that Thomas Di Pauli’s best shot at the NHL is to become a Michael Grabner-like forward. A specialist player that is able to use his speed effectively as a penalty-killer and as a breakaway threat (which he already is).
At 26, soon to be 27, it’s possible that the AHL won’t be his best option. Teams generally give preference to either proven players his age or younger players with clear potential. Due to injury and his time in the NCAA, Di Pauli doesn’t currently count towards the AHL veteran limit, but it’s possible that an internal limit could limit him.
Instead, I wonder if a league like the SHL or even the DEL would be an option for Di Pauli. Both leagues are good places for a player like Di Pauli to impress while also giving him a clear opportunity to come back to the AHL. It’s not too far off from what former teammate Adam Johnson did, heading to the SHL for the year and then signing back in the AHL with a clearer pathway.
Overall, there are a lot of question marks with Di Pauli, I hope a team gives him a shot even at his age, he could be a smart grab for any organization.
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