When the St. Louis Blues signed Tage Thompson after his second year in the NCAA, the team knew it was getting a goal-scorer.
He had 19 goals in 34 points with the University of Connecticut as a sophomore and 33 goals over 70 games. Just imagine the numbers he'd put up had he gone back for his junior season.
So, if you told scouts then that it would take him five seasons to be an everyday player, and that long to hit double digits in goals? You'd look like a maniac.
It took Thompson much longer than expected to become an everyday NHLer, partly due to injuries and lots to do with inconsistency. He had eight goals in 38 games last year and just 10 in his first 106 between St. Louis and Buffalo. Now comfortably performing with the Sabres, Thompson is a 30-goal scorer -- 32 to be exact -- and leads the team with 58 points, an incredible number given the difficulties he had trying to prove himself.
Goals on a back-marker team can be misleading -- it's not uncommon for a player to rack up points in a 5-1 loss, for example, when the score doesn't mean much -- but Thompson has been consistent all year long and truly deserves the high praise he has been getting.
While Thompson has been a consistent threat on Buffalo's power play, 21 of his goals have come at 5-on-5, good for 12th in the NHL. Auston Matthews (37) is the only player with more than 25 at this stage in the season, so the margin between second and 12th is very close. Thompson's 13.73 shooting percentage is good for first on the Sabres among players with at least 10 even-strength goals, Thompson's 1.34 goals-per-60 ties Jeff Skinner for first on Buffalo, while Thompson's 2.49 points-per-60 is tops.
Buffalo's top line with Jeff Skinner and Tuch has been quite dangerous, with Thompson and Skinner combining for 62 goals as a pair. Tuch has only played 42 games, but has 33 points in that span since coming over from Vegas in the Jack Eichel trade.
Using Evolving-Hockey's goals-above-replacement formula, Thompson's 10.4 GAR is second on Buffalo behind Tuch's 10.7. His GAR is far below Matthews' leading 29.9, but most of the top 50 is made up of players on top contenders. At 99, Thompson sits just above Brayden Point and tied with Patrick Kane. That's some mighty fine competition to be linked to.
What all does that mean? It means nothing Sabres fans didn't already know: Thompson is a budding star, and if he can continue playing like this for years to come, it'll help to mitigate the sting lost in the Ryan O'Reilly trade that much more.
And when you have a goal-scorer that can control the game with his stick while standing 6-foot-7 and 218 pounds? Thompson has all the potential to be an unstoppable force for a team that needs it.
Thompson has another year left on his $1.4-million cap hit and should get a nice raise on his next RFA deal. He's a foundational player on a team with some impressive young players, such as Dylan Cozens, Peyton Krebs, Jack Quinn, Owen Power and the already established Rasmus Dahlin.
In theory, this is a core group the team can continue to grow around, and another early draft pick this year will help. But for a player many started to write off in Thompson, seeing him shine like he is, even in a tough season for a proud fanbase, is something worth celebrating.