Buffalo Sabres: As Season Starts, Tage Thompson Poised To Match Potential
|Photo Credit: Justin Berl/Getty Images|
When teams go through the draft process, it’s usually more about projection than upfront ability, especially when your not picking early on.
You take a look at a prospect, and you have to imagine what he may become once he fully develops.
That’s what the St. Louis Blues did when they drafted Tage Thompson back in the first round back in the 2016, and why the Buffalo Sabres were more than happy to acquire him in the Ryan O’Reilly trade.
Thompson has a blend of size and speed that immediately make scouts take notice. Standing at 6-5, scouts saw Thompson as a potential top-six forward that would drive the opposition crazy once he was able to fill out his frame.
“Tage is a big player,” Then Blues director of player development Tim Taylor said back when the drafted Thompson. “You don’t usually get centermen (with) the height and physical presence that he brings.”
“He’s a player that our scouts feel that with his size, and he can bring a lot of speed, especially in the Western Conference, we’re always looking for bigger players, especially up the middle and you don’t see 6-5, 6-7 players up the middle too often.”
While Tage has since started the transition to the wing, but that doesn’t slow the impact his blend of size and speed can bring to the table.
It hasn’t been an easy transition for Thompson, the son of former NHLer Brent, but at 23 years old he still has plenty of time to figure things out. Players with his skill set usually take a little longer to develop, as they have to fill out their frame and learn how to properly leverage their size.
Playing College And Transition To Pros
Thompson attended the University of Connecticut for two seasons before turning pro. In those two seasons, he played in 70 games and registered 64 points (33 G, 31 A). His freshman year, Thompson led the NCAA in power play goals with 13, and was ranked fourth among Hockey East rookies in scoring.
He would go on to score 19 goals his sophomore season before signing a three-year entry-level contract with the Blues.
Since then, Thompson has bounced back and forth between the NHL and AHL. He played in a career high 65 games with the Sabres in his first year with the organization, also putting up 12 points (7 G, 5 A) in those contests.
Heading into last season, the last of his entry-level, Thompson began the season in the AHL where things seemed to be starting to come together for him. He had 12 points (6 G, 6 A) in 16 games at the time of his recall, and was hoping to carry momentum with him to the NHL.
That wouldn’t be the case, unfortunately, as Thompson was injured in his first game of the season with the Sabres, injuring his shoulder which eventually led to surgery and him missing the rest of the year.
New Management, New Hope
Losing a majority of a season when your still developing is huge, but the timing of Thompson’s injury could have been a career changer for him.
By the end of the season, the front office team that acquired him were mostly gone, with Thompson also being a restricted free agent having finished up his entry-level contract.
With a new front office coming in, it could have been easy for Thompson to get lost in the fold but new General Manager Kevyn Adams recognized what they had in the big forward and showed faith in him with a brand new three-year extension.
Now with the Sabres set to kick off their season on Thursday against the Washington Capitals, Thompson finds himself with potentially a golden opportunity ahead.
Thompson has been taking reps on the top line, skating with Jack Eichel and newcomer Taylor Hall in practice leading up to the season opener.
“We couldn’t quite guess where he might be after more than a year off. He has truly come in ready to grab a higher role.” Said Head Coach Ralph Krueger in an interview. “He will get that opportunity.”
Certainly sounds like Thompson is getting ready to get a chance with two of the better players in the league.
Thompson has an opportunity to make an impact on a team that has its share of talent, but also that is still trying to find its way in the league. Now in the dreaded East division with power houses like the Boston Bruins, Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, and Pittsburgh Penguins, the Sabres will need all hands on deck this year, which will include Thompson.
“I feel like he’s even more powerful this year,” Sabres forward Victor Olofsson said. “He really uses his size and his strength out there combined with his skill.”
Even his teammates are noticing the difference and at this pace it won’t take long for the rest of the league to find out either.