The evolution of Tage Thompson

When the Sabres acquired Tage Thompson from the St. Louis Blues, everyone knew that they were getting a big forward with an even bigger shot.

The unknowns surrounding Thompson were evident, when would he be able to make an NHL impact? What role would he play with the Sabres? Would he even make the Sabres out of camp?

Earlier I wrote about Thompson, and what his game is all about…but even with the confidence that I had in Thompson I was starting to doubt whether or not he belonged in Buffalo this season.

Then Tage went out an blasted home his first goal of the season against Pittsburgh…

Thompson Goal #1

Since the moment this shot hit the back of the net Thompson has been a completely different player. His confidence is through the roof and he looks like the top-6 scoring winger that the Sabres need him to be.

The 21-year-old has 4G and 2A in 20 GP this season but all four goals have come in the last seven games, including a highlight reel shootout goal against the Red Wings.

In my in-depth look at Thompson’s game I talked about his elite level shot, his size, and his skills with the puck.

While he looked lost through his first 13 games this season and many questioned why the Sabres had him in the press box rather than in the AHL… in the last seven games Thompson has shown all of ability and has made Botterill and Housley look like geniuses for keeping him in the press box.

He has showcased his shot, his ability to use his size, and his elite level puck skills in the last seven games and has made believers out of all of his doubters.

Tage Thompson Rocket

Three of Thompson’s four goals (including the one against Pittsburgh) have been lasers that the goalie had no chance at stopping.

Olofsson has the best shot in the organization but Thompson has a case for the second best… the more he shoots the more he’s going to score, he just needs to continue to put himself in prime shoot locations like the examples you’re about to see.

Thompson Goal #3

Howard has absolutely no chance at stopping this, Thompson has the ability to overpower any goalie in the NHL with a shot like this… most people only saw the puck once it bounced out of the net.

TT Goal

On this goal the puck never leaves the ice… it simply went through Domingue and there was nothing he could do about it.

With his confidence through the roof, and with him starting to fire the puck at will and with a struggling powerplay unit I think the Sabres need to strongly consider giving Tage a shot on the top unit and see if they can capitalize on Thompson’s hot streak.

Thompson’s using his size

The second point I talked about in my in-depth look was Thompson’s size. He’s 6-5, 205 and has the frame to assert himself physically over his opponents.

Early in the season Thompson avoided getting into the corners and when he did he wouldn’t be going 100%.

Over the last stretch, Thompson is starting to use his size to his advantage in both the offensive and in the physical game.

In his goal against Philadelphia Thompson used his body to shield the puck from the defender and power to the front of the net before putting the puck in the back of the net:

Thompson Goal #2

This goal is a perfect example of a player using his body to his advantage. If Tage puts his head down and shields the puck properly while going to the net…not many players will be able to stop him.

As his confidence continues to grow I would expect to see more of this from the young winger.

Scoring goals like this shows the league that he’s not a one dimensional scorer and that there isn’t one way to defend him…it will open up more ice for him in the future because defenders will have to prepare for him to shoot OR for him to take the puck hard to the net.

The other thing Tage is starting to do is engage in physical play more often. He won’t throw huge hits but he will go hard into the corners and make life difficult for defenders.

If he continues to add more weight to his frame and continues to improve his strength you will see more hits like the one he put on Ryan McDonagh against Tampa Bay.

Thompson Hit

He is starting to turn into a scoring power forward who is capable of using his natural talent, and god-given size to his advantage and as he continues to develop he’s only going to gain more confidence and starting imposing his will on his opponents.

He has confidence, and the team has confidence in him

Thompson has become famous for his toe drag…and not for good reason. There was a stretch during the season where Tage would get the puck on his stick and immediately look to toe-drag around an opponent.

It often put himself and his team in danger, leading to turnovers and goals against.

While there is no denying that he has incredible hands, especially for a 6-5 winger, Thompson often tried too hard to make an impressive play.

Continuing with the theme of this article… now you’re seeing Tage pick his spots to make a flashy play and is simplifying his game.

He’s still trying to make the flashy plays (once in a while) but he’s having more success because he’s picking his spots better and because the team and the coaching staff is putting him in places to succeed.

Against the Lightning, Thompson-Mittelstadt-Okposo was the Sabres’ best line and they combined for one of the prettiest goals in that game (see the goal above).

Allowing Thompson to played with a skilled center like Mittelstadt, and a veteran winger like Okposo allows Thompson to use his skills to his advantage.

Housley is starting to believe in Thompson more and more…and that all came to a head when Housley tapped Thompson’s shoulder during the shootout in Detroit.

Thompson was chosen over the likes of Skinner and Reinhart (who later scored the winner). Which shows that the coaches are willing to put Thompson in high pressure situations.

Earlier in the year, Thompson would have likely let his team and coaches down…but lately he is becoming a reliable offensive weapon who is capable to putting the game on his back and capable of pulling off plays like this:

Thompson shootout

It’s early in the season but to say that there hasn’t been a drastic change in Thompson’s game is wrong (not that anyone is saying so). He is developing before our very eyes and is improving each game… he has evolved from a healthy scratch into a top-6 winger and is showing signs of continuous improvement.

If this trend continues, there’s no telling how good Thompson can be…he’s starting to look like a top-6 scoring winger and has shown exactly why Botterill wanted to trade for him.

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