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Lightning Round: Tage Thompson is good at hockey

Not every prospect takes the same route to stardom

Buffalo Sabres v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Tage Thompson was the 26th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft (aka the Auston Matthews Draft). In that draft, the Tampa Bay Lightning held the 27th pick. If he had dropped past the St. Louis Blues would the Bolts have taken him instead of Brett Howden? Maybe. After all, 6’6” stickhandling centers don’t come along every year. Who knows what would have happened if he had a chance to develop in the Lightning’s system.

After he finished out his college career at the University of Connecticut (where he had an okay 64 points in 70 games) he made his way to the NHL fairly quickly, appearing in 41 games for the Blues and recording 9 points (3 goals, 6 assists) in th 2017-18 season. It was a good enough showing that the Buffalo Sabres acquired him as part of the package in the Ryan O’Reilly trade the following summer.

From there he split time with the Sabres and the Rochester Americans, never really throwing up many points and taking on a bottom-six role. His career high in goals at any professional level was 8. Well, that was until last year, when through injuries and desperation he found himself on a top line with Buffalo and responded with 38 goals and 30 assists in 78 games. A breakout season, at the age of 24, that prompted a 7-year, $50 million contract that left some scratching their heads. Heck, some were surprised back when Buffalo protected him in the Vegas expansion draft.

It’s apparently not a fluke as Thompson continues to light up the scoreboard. Wednesday night he scored four times in the first period against the Columbus Blue Jackets to tie a NHL record, He would add one more in the second as the Sabres rolled the Blue Jackets, 9-4. The five goals matched a Buffalo team record set by old friend Dave Andreychuck.

With the five goals, Thompson now has 21 on the season and is well on his way to matching, or beating, the career-best mark he set last season. It goes to show that there isn’t just one path to success in the NHL. Thompson may have been a first-round pick, but he didn’t go out and immediately start producing like his draftmate Matthews. Thompson has battled injuries, high expectations, healthy scratches, and demotions to become the player he is today.

So when a touted prospect is sent to the AHL or doesn’t immediately put up the numbers you may expect of them, don’t count them out just yet. Don’t be so quick to label them a bust, they may just be needing the right opportunity or moment to fulfill their potential.

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