Five years ago I didn’t think Tage Thompson was going to be a full-time NHL player. Now the Buffalo Sabres forward is one of the top snipers in the world.
You read that right. I said ‘in the world.’ Thompson has scored 14 goals in 22 games this season, a pace ahead of last year’s 38 in 78. And he’s tied with Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak for fourth overall.
Thompson isn’t just filling the net – he’s making opposing goaltenders look silly. Like this tally Monday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning:
Sure this is a filthy move. And Lightning goaltender Brian Elliott reached deep into the save selection bag to try and stop Thompson. But none worked. Butterfly? Nope. Pokecheck? Nope. Pad reach? Nope. Thompson used every inch of ice surrounding the crease to get around Elliott.
It’s not just Thompson’s hands that are impressive on this play. It’s his determination and attention to detail. See how he spins off the pile to open ice and intercepts the Lightning pass? Not every player does that with urgency. Thompson does.
The two hard strides he takes getting free of the scrum are just as important to this goal as the danglefest around Elliott. Thompson doesn’t get the puck if he doesn’t work hard first.
It’s a sick goal from a player who, despite first-round draft status, is just now coming into his own at the NHL level. And his teammates know what they are seeing is pretty special.
Take a look at Sabres captain Kyle Okposo when he comes into the pile to celebrate with Thompson and their Buffalo teammates. Okposo is smiling ear-to-ear. Giddy, even. Because Thompson is becoming an NHL superstar, and Okposo gets to witness his teammate’s metamorphosis live at ice level.
So why do I think Thompson’s career has taken off? Here are five reasons.
1. A SWITCH TO CENTER
I had a great conversation with long-time NHL goaltender-turned analyst Martin Biron last week about Thompson. And he was quick to give credit to Sabres head coach Don Granato, who decided to try Thompson at the center ice position.
The switch happened in advance of the 2021-22 season, and the results were glowing. Thompson put up 30 assists along with the aforementioned 38 goals.
Thompson had previously played wing, and it limited the amount of ice he could cover. When Granato moved Thompson to center, it gave him more space to work with.
For someone as big as Thompson – he’s 6-foot-6, 220 lbs – the extra room really helps him use his hands. On the wing, from what I saw, Thompson was much more of a pure shooter. At center, Thompson has creative license. And the clip above is a good example of what he can do when the puck is on his blade.