Tage Thompson was one of the key pieces that came back to the Buffalo Sabres in the trade for Ryan O’Reilly last summer. The 20-year-old came to the Sabres with potential but was a raw prospect that needed some time to develop.
He made the team out of training camp, but it got off to a rough start for the former first-round pick. Thompson struggled with turnovers early and wasn’t providing the scoring to offset his defensive issues.
The slow start resulted in a three-week stretch in which he was a healthy scratch in every game except two. Many, including myself, questioned the development plan for the big winger. If he wasn’t going to play it made sense to send him to go to the AHL to continue his development and play in games. The Sabres maintained this was all part of the plan.
Long story, short, after a few months we’re finally starting to see the payoff. He’s become an effective player for the Sabres, in particular, over the last 10 games. He hasn’t scored at a high pace over that stretch (one goal) but has become an important piece of the offense.
For the season, Thompson has been one of the worst 5 on 5 possession players on the team with a 45.48 CF%. Over the last 10 games though, he’s become the best 5 on 5 possession player on the team with a 55.31 CF%.
It’s no coincidence that this has improvement has come with a change in his usage. In the first 26 games of his season, Thompson started had a 40.48 percent offensive zone starts at even strength. Over the last 10 games, that number has drastically improved to 53.66 percent offensive zone starts.
Phil Housley has noticed Thompson’s improvement and has rewarded the winger. He’s played over 14 minutes a game in each of the last five games and is averaging 3.6 shots per game over that same stretch.
“I just thought that Tage has been playing some really good hockey and again tonight he had some really good looks,” said Housley after the game against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night.
Thompson played perhaps his best game of the season against the Devils. He saw top line minutes playing with Vladimir Sobotka and Jeff Skinner. The only thing that Thompson didn’t do was put the puck in the net. It was nice to watch a talented player skate with confidence and perhaps give you a glimpse of what the future may hold.
With Jack Eichel likely returning to the lineup on Friday against the Carolina Hurricanes it’ll be interesting to see where Housley plays Thompson in the lineup and who he lines him up with.
The talent and skill are obvious for Thompson. He just needs to find his consistency now, a common thing young players struggle with. Once he finds that, the Sabres could be in for a treat with his combination of size, skill, and elite level shot.