The Buffalo Sabres are two days away from their home opener against the Montreal Canadiens, and they will experiment with their lineup to begin the season. Tage Thompson has had a tough start to his NHL career, from being a promising prospect involved in the Ryan O’Reilly trade to not establishing himself in the team’s lineup. The 23-year-old has had a lot of pressure on him. Now, the team is hoping that he can work at the center position.
During a game against the Detroit Red Wings, he cut into the middle of the ice to open up the shooting lane and buried it past goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic. If he displays that type of confidence regularly and uses his 6-foot-7 frame to his advantage, he has a lot of potential as a center.
Thompson To Start The Season At Center
During his media availability on Oct. 9, Sabres head coach Don Granato had this to say on Thompson at center: “If we can get him to play that position, it’s going to be impactful. And he’s showing signs right away that are even more intriguing than I thought before I put him there.”
Growing up, he always played as a center in junior hockey leagues until he switched to become a winger in college. Thompson expanded on this in his Oct. 4 media availability. “I was always a center, and then college was when I switched to wing. It’s been a while since I’ve played center, so as of right now, I’d say I probably prefer wing a little bit better, but I’m excited about the opportunity.”
He played on a line with Rasmus Asplund and Victor Olofsson over the preseason, and that is the team’s projected second line moving forward. He will have to be defensively responsible as a center, especially when going up against the likes of John Tavares and Anthony Cirelli. Also, he will have to find the passing lanes for his teammates to utilize Olofsson’s dynamic shot.
This is a Make-or-Break Season for Thompson
So far in his NHL career, he has accumulated 18 goals and 35 points in 135 games. In other words, that is 0.24 points per game, which translates to a prorated 19.7 points over an 82-game season. Thompson has a perfect shot, as it’s quick and accurate, but he often fires a low percentage shot from the blue line rather than making the space for himself for better opportunities.
The advanced numbers support this argument. Looking at the graphic above, Thompson was 11th in the entire NHL regarding his individual expected goals per-60. This means that he tends to shoot as often as possible, even if he isn’t in the best position. This can be shown as he ranks 313th in on-ice expected goals per-60, meaning that his line is getting severely out-chanced whenever he is on the ice.
If he can play to his strengths, he can start to finish more of his chances. Look at this goal that he scored against the Pittsburgh Penguins last season. He retrieves the puck from the board and can protect the puck against Sidney Crosby to get around him. Once he creates the space for himself, he brings the puck around the net and scores a wraparound goal. This play was a perfect example of him using his combination of speed and size to create an opportunity for himself.
If he cannot improve his production this season and can’t find a permanent spot in the team’s lineup, he will likely find himself getting traded. If he can’t make a team that is projected to be one of the worst in the league, he will have trouble making other rosters around the NHL. This is his chance to prove himself, and he needs to if he wants to carve out a long career for himself.
Jordan Jacklin is a freelance writer who covers the Buffalo Sabres here at The Hockey Writers. Jordan is a student at Ryerson’s Sport Media program and uses analytics and video scouting to evaluate your favourite players in the game.