NEWARK, NJ - Tyce Thompson watched the 2017 NHL Draft, his first year of eligibility, hoping to hear his name called. Seven rounds came and went, and nothing.
At the 2018 NHL Draft, Thompson once again waited to hear if he had been selected. And once again, seven rounds came and went, and nothing.
Undeterred, Thompson joined Providence College and notched eight goals, 25 points and a plus-12 in his freshman campaign.
Despite being overlooked twice in the draft, Thompson never doubted that his life would one day lead to the NHL.
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"I felt pretty confident that eventually I would make it to the NHL," Thompson told the New Jersey Devils official website.
"I've used every experience that I've gone through to just get better. I haven't had the easiest road in terms of going from place to place, but I'm happy to be here now. And I'm excited to get it going."
Thompson was finally drafted by the Devils in 2019 (fourth round, 96th overall) and will make his NHL debut Tuesday when the Devils host the Buffalo Sabres at Prudential Center.
"It's really cool. I'm just super excited," Thompson said at Tuesday's media availability. "I can't wait for tonight. I'm really excited to finally get the first game.
"I'm speechless. I can't describe how I really feel. It's just really exciting."
Thompson was notified by Devils head coach Lindy Ruff the previous evening that he would be playing in his first NHL game. And Ruff shared some advice with the 21-year-old rookie.
"Just enjoy it. It happens once," Thompson recounted. "Be excited and enjoy it. Play hockey."
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Thompson, who signed with the Devils nearly two weeks ago after completing his third season with Providence, immediately notified his family in a group text, a message that included his brother Tage, who will be suiting up opposite of his brother for the Sabres.
"It's the best way to draw it up, to be able to play against my brother makes it that much more special," Thompson said. "We were both really competitive growing up playing against each other in the summer. We both want to win. It's going to be intense, but it's going to be a lot of fun, too."
And don't expect either Thompson brothers to go easy on each when the game starts.
"You just treat him like another player out there," Thompson said. "Everyone is playing to win, so you play him the same as you would anyone else."
Tage and Tyce won't be the only Thompsons at Prudential Center. Their mother, Kim, will be in attendance. Though their father, Brent - who played 121 NHL games and is currently the head coach of the American Hockey League's Bridgeport Sound - is trying his best to be there.
A family reunion would only be fitting considering how close the Thompson family is.
"I think we're very close," said Thompson, who credited that closeness to constantly relocating during their youth to follow their father's hockey career. "I thought it brought us closer. … That has a lot to do with it with how much we moved. We always had each other."
Now Thompson also has his new teammates, including Mike McLeod and Mikhail Maltsev, his morning skate line partners. And Thompson's new head coach expects the rookie will get a regular shift with his new linemates.
"If you want to get a player comfortable then he has to be able to play," Ruff said. "He has to get into the rhythm of the game. It should be a night where he gets 10-plus minutes and fits in fine for us. … I feel that he's going to play a regular role for us."
Ruff understands exactly how Thompson feels, and will take that into account when evaluating his play.
"I think everybody can relate back to that first game that played the game. The combination of nerves, excitement, fun," said Ruff, who made his NHL debut at 19 years old for Buffalo in 1979, two decades before Thompson was born.
"I can remember how nervous I was to go on the ice and play," Ruff continued. "I don't ever want to lose that feeling because you have to remember that when a young man steps into the lineup. They feel that exact same way. They feel that anxiety, that nervousness, that excitement. Things start moving real fast. It was probably the greatest day of my life, that first game."
Luckily, that nervousness and excitement didn't hurt Thompson's sleep last night. Though it has been building throughout the day.
"I was able to get some sleep. But I'm really anxious and excited," he said. "This whole day, I just can't wait for puck drop. I'm thrilled to be here and play my first game.
"I'm going to try and take it all in. Playing your first NHL game is something special. I'm going to try to enjoy it, not worry too much and just go out there and play."