Tuesday night’s game against the Los Angeles Kings marked another chapter in the phenomenon that is Tage Thompson. The Sabres struggled through the first two periods, managing a measly 15 shots and producing very little offensive output whatsoever. The third period was a completely different story, however. Thompson scored just over a minute into the period with a shot that he couldn’t have placed into the top left corner any more precisely. That was goal number 22 on the season, and he followed it up with number 23 later in the third period, where they absolutely dominated. If there was any uncertainty before the season started, it can now be put to bed: Thompson is a legitimate superstar, and he drives their offense night in and night out.
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Having him as their top center has taken a lot of stress off the rest of the lineup, and it has opened an opportunity for Dylan Cozens to seize their second-line center role. He has started budding into an excellent player in his own right and has had success on a line with rookies Jack Quinn and JJ Peterka. The combination of Thompson and Cozens creates a dynamic duo for the Sabres, and with both players currently under 25 years old, this one-two punch down the middle is one they can count on to facilitate their offense for seasons to come.
Thompson Has Become a Superstar for the Sabres
There was some disbelief and skepticism around the season Thompson in 2021-22, most of which can be attributed to his meteoric rise seemingly happening out of nowhere. The franchise firmly believed he had become a transcendent player, and they rewarded him with a seven-year contract extension. That deal is already looking like quite the bargain for the organization, and having him locked up for seven years after this season is a breath of fresh air for a team that desperately needed one. Thompson sits in the top five in goals scored in the entire NHL, and he is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
The two-goal effort Tuesday night was the latest in a long line of performances that have left Sabres fans in awe. This time two years ago, Thompson was largely written off and seen as another failed piece of the Ryan O’Reilly trade. Fast forward two years, and he is firmly in the race for the Hart Trophy and is certainly in contention for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as well. The player he has turned himself into is absolutely spectacular, and it is a testament to the patience the league should have with younger players. Not every player is at the top of their game as soon as they step foot in the league, and it often takes time to develop their skill set at the highest level.
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With their top-line center role filled, the Sabres can now begin to build out the rest of their roster to turn themselves into a perennial contender. They have already done a tremendous job stockpiling young talent, some of whom we’ve seen make huge leaps this year. Thompson’s ability to produce nightly and the attention he draws from opposing teams has created opportunities for players lower in the lineup. Cozens is one of the players who have benefitted from his rise, and he has taken the opportunity as their second-line center and run with it.
Cozens Enjoying Breakout Season in Expanded Role
It is easy to forget that while Cozens has played 149 games in his professional career, he is still just 21 years old. He is enjoying a breakout season, and a significant part of that is the newfound chemistry with Quinn and Peterka. This line has become the top-six depth the team desperately needed, and they can rely on a line other than Thompson, Jeff Skinner and Alex Tuch to contribute offensively every night. They play with speed and skill, and they sacrifice very little defensively. A lot of that has to do with Cozens, who has been a consistently solid defensive forward during his tenure in Buffalo. He has stepped into a difficult role and really thrived in doing so. He has become the second-line center they spent years searching for.
An extension is in line for Cozens, as he will be a restricted free agent when this season ends. Locking him up long-term, similar to what they did with Thompson, will bode well for future success. This duo has become a significant part of their plans moving forward, and it is easy to see why. Thompson is so creative offensively, and his wingers, Tuch and Skinner, are under contract for a while. Quinn, Cozens and Peterka are all young, up-and-coming players who have combined to become the second line this team has been waiting for. Being able to roll them out in any situation and at any time is a large part of why the team’s offensive output has absolutely exploded this season.
In today’s NHL, having center depth is crucial and oftentimes hard to acquire. Such a premium is placed on that position, and having two high-pedigree centers already a part of their program is quite the luxury. Even if they need to make a move to acquire another center in the future, it will only add to the overall depth they have built. This dynamic duo is fun to watch, they work extremely hard, and best of all, they’re producing. While the team is still sitting outside of playoff contention, Thompson and Cozens have the offense clicking and playing at an unbelievably high level with no signs of slowing down.