Tage Thompson Working Hard To Return To The NHL

Author: John Altavilla, courant.com
Date: Dec 19, 2017

Tage Thompson is living in San Antonio for now, basking in the big-city life while he works to return to the National Hockey League with the St. Louis Blues.

There are worse places to play in the AHL and Thompson knows it. And nine months after leaving UConn after two seasons setting an example of brilliance in Hockey East, Thompson, who signed a three-year $3.4 million entry-level contract in March, is still certain he made the correct decision.

“I definitely believe it was the right choice. In terms of hockey, it was time to make that next step,” Thompson said.

The first-round pick of the Blues in 2016, the first UConn hockey player so honored, has been playing for the San Antonio Rampage since Oct. 13 when the Blues reassigned him to the AHL.

Thompson made the Blues roster in training camp, primarily because of injuries along the front line that opened a few slots in the lineup.

“I was fortunate to get the chance, but not at the cost of other guys being injured. But it did open a hole for me [on the roster] and I did my best to jump on the opportunity,” Thompson said. “I’d say I got a fair amount of ice time, a lot of ice time for a first-year player. It was a little different role than I was used to playing in college, but it was the NHL and there was nothing to complain about.”

Playing primarily on the Blues’ third line with Magnus Paajarvi and Oskar Sundqvist, Thompson had no points and a minus-three in four games.

“There’s nothing but positives for Tage right now,” Blues coach Mike Yeo told STLToday after the move. “He’s had a tremendous camp, did a real great job. It’s hard to play in your first couple games in the NHL and he came in and helped contribute to some wins. There’s nothing but positives from our side.

“Obviously, when he was in the lineup for us he wasn’t getting the big minutes and he was not playing on the top two lines. We’re not looking to develop a third- or fourth-liner with Tage. We want to make sure he gets the reps in the offensive situations that he needs.”

Thompson said he wasn’t discouraged by the early demotion.

“Making the NHL [out of training game] was kind of the goal for me,” Thompson said. “I went to camp with the intention of making the team and hopefully staying there for as long as possible. But they have other plans for me at the moment and I’ve been playing a lot in San Antonio, developing as a player a little more. I was happy for the chance to see what the NHL was like.”

This is Thompson’s second stint in the AHL. After signing with the Blues he was immediately assigned to the Chicago Wolves, who were developing the organization’s players.

Thompson's time with the Wolves was instructive at best. He played in 16 regular-season games and another 10 in the Calder Cup playoffs, finishing with one goal and one assist in the regular season and two goals and one assist in the playoffs.

“That little stint I had in Chicago definitely prepared me for training camp this season,” Thompson said. “It got me more adjusted to the pro game. It’s a much different style and something you need to get used to, which probably takes a little more time.”

It was during the summer that Thompson made significant strides, convincing the Blues he might be ready to make the jump to the NHL.

Thompson led all scorers among eight teams participating in the NHL prospects tournament in Traverse City, Mich. He scored four goals with five assists; a performance the Blues rewarded him with by playing him on a line with veterans Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz during a Blues’ scrimmage that followed the camp.

“He’s working. He wants to make an impression,” Yeo said at the time. “He wants to try and make our team. And good on him for recognizing that every shift he’s out there he knows that he’s being evaluated not just on obviously his ability to shoot the puck in the net or the skill play, but his ability to win battles, to do the little things that are required at this level.”

In his first 23 games with the Rampage, Thompson had seven goals and nine assists with one power-play goal and four penalty minutes.

“It’s all been good, so far so good, it’s been a good season,” Thompson said. “I just feel like I’ve had a solid first season. This is the first time I’ve been through all of this, other than the short stint I had in Chicago last season. This is all new to me and different than college, that’s for sure. But from a performance standpoint, I feel like [I’m] doing pretty good.

“Playing in the AHL gave me a pretty good preview of what the NHL would be like. The thing is, everything is so quick out there. As the play is going on you have to try and think four plays ahead. You have to know what you are going to do with the puck before you get it.”

Thompson said he hopes to return to UConn next summer to work out and take a few classes.

“I keep in touch with most of the guys, talking to them about how the season is going,” Thompson said of the current Huskies team. “I’m hoping that they experience a lot of team and individual success.”

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