Keaton Thompson grabs an assist as he works to earn contract with Iowa Wild
Keaton Thompson stepped back onto Ralph Engelstad Arena's ice Friday night without a contract in hand for this season.
The former Devils Lake High School and UND defenseman is with the Iowa Wild on a tryout deal, hoping to land a contract with Minnesota's top minor-league affiliate for this season.
"It is a little stressful, but it comes with the job," Thompson said of not having a contract yet for this season. "You're always trying to prove yourself, show what you've got and try to put your best foot forward."
Thompson did that Friday by collecting an assist on Iowa's eventual game-winning goal in a 2-1 victory over the Manitoba Moose in one of two exhibition games for the American Hockey League clubs. They'll play another one at 2 p.m. Saturday in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Iowa currently has two spots open on defense right now -- a third-pair defenseman and a seventh defenseman, coach Tim Army said. If Louie Belpedio and Carson Soucy both stick with the Wild because of injuries, then there's a third spot open.
Thompson will get a long look at those spots.
"We just need a good hockey player," Army said. "He doesn't have to do anything besides just playing his game: move the puck, jump in the rush at the right time, use your instincts, defend well, transition out of our own end through the neutral zone, good and quick puck movement. He's done a really good job.
"He's been really good. I think he just needs to play his game."
Thompson has spent the last three years in Anaheim's system. He played 169 games for Anaheim's top minor-league affiliate, the San Diego Gulls, tallying nine goals and 39 points. Anaheim didn't send Thompson a qualifying offer this summer, though, making him an unrestricted free agent.
"I remember him last year in San Diego," Army said. "He's got experience. . . like the way he played at the big Wild camp. In the past week with us, he's played himself into a good spot. He doesn't have to do anything beyond just playing his game. He's got experience. He's got a good demeanor about him. He's got a steadying presence with the right ingredient to be a good defenseman at the American League level.
"For him, he's got to just keep playing the way he's been playing. Keep playing to your strengths. If he does that, he's going to put himself in a good position to stick with us."
Thompson, who was a member of UND's 2016 NCAA national championship team, said he's not going to try to do too much on the ice.
"I want to play a hard, simple game," Thompson said, "make the first pass nice and easy to the forwards, get the puck in their hands and let them make plays. Hopefully, I can contribute to the offense and be defensively sound."
And it might help that he gets to do his audition at his old home.
"It's always great coming back to Grand Forks," Thompson said. "It's good to see the guys and the coaches. It always feels like home coming back here."
IOWA 2, MANITOBA 1
First period -- 1. IA, Will Bitten (Luke Johnson) 18:46
Second period -- 2. IA, Dmitry Sokolov (Keaton Thompson, Brennan Menell) 7:39 (dp)
Third period -- 3. MB, Cole Maier (Jansen Harkins) 19:22 (ex).
Goalie saves -- IA: Kaapo Kahkonen 24; MB: Adam Carlson 27