Tage Thompson was sitting in his living room with his father, Brent, when he took a call from St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong on Sunday night. Armstrong informed Thompson that he had been traded to Buffalo, part of a package sent to the Sabres in exchange for forward Ryan O'Reilly.
Initially, Thompson was thrown off; recent conversations with his agent had suggested that his status in St. Louis was secure. But as he broke down the situation with his father, an NHL player himself for eight seasons and now a coach in the New York Islanders organization, the shock transformed into excitement.
"The more we sat and thought about it, we feel that it's a great fit for me," Thompson said Monday. "It's going to be exactly what I've been looking for as far as an opportunity to go in and play a lot and produce and help the team win. The organization believes the same things so it's nice to be on the same page."
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Thompson, 20, said he felt "pigeon-holed" at times last season as a rookie in St. Louis, where he was a young player on a veteran team. He played 41 NHL games but averaged just 11:06 of ice time and was mostly relegated to a bottom-six role.
Jason Botterill said he brought in Thompson to grow with Buffalo's young core, a message that was communicated to the forward as well. Thompson, selected 26th overall in 2016, figures to be one of six first-round picks between the ages of 18 and 23 who will open next season on Buffalo's NHL roster.
That list also includes Jack Eichel, Casey Mittelstadt and Sam Reinhart at forward and a pair of Ramuses (Dahlin and Ristolainen) on defense. Alex Nylander will look to add his name to that list in the future, and Brendan Guhle could open next season in the NHL as well.
With Eichel, Mittelstadt and perhaps even Reinhart playing down the middle, Botterill said he sees Thompson as having the potential to grow as one of their wingers.
"They believe in my abilities to produce offense and they're giving me that opportunity to slide into the top six and help create offense," Thompson said. "I think you play better when you have confidence and just them giving me this opportunity has given me a ton more confidence."
Thompson's description of his own game echoed the one Botterill gave on Sunday. At 6-feet-5-inches tall and 201 pounds, he's a self-described power forward with a knack for making plays and a shooter's mentality.
Thompson recorded three goals and nine points last season with the Blues and 18 points (8+10) in 30 games for their AHL affiliate in San Antonio. Prior to that, he scored 64 points in 70 games during his two seasons at UConn. He was Kris Baker's 25th-ranked prospect ahead of the 2016 NHL Draft, praised for his "lethal shot" and long skating stride to go along with his big frame.
"I think I play better when there's more pressure, when I'm relied on a little more," he said. "It was that way for me at UConn for those two years there and I really feel like I thrive under pressure and being leaned on, so I'm excited to be the guy that they look to in terms of producing and helping the team succeed."
The transition for Thompson will be made easier by the three former Blues coming to Buffalo with him. The Sabres also acquired forwards Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka as part of the deal for O'Reilly and had signed goalie Carter Hutton to a three-year contract earlier in the day.
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"I think the organization has made it very easy for me," he said. "They're great guys, as far as the people I've talked to, so Carter, Vladimir and Patrik are going to make that transition that much easier and hopefully it will just help me relax and play my game."
Having grown up as the son of an NHL player and coach, Thompson also has a bit of experience when it comes to changing scenery. Since he was born in 1997, his father has played or coached for nine teams in eight different states, as far east as Rhode Island and as far west as Alaska. By the time he arrived at Pioneer High School in Michigan for his junior year, he was on his ninth school.
After a brief stint in St. Louis, he hopes he's finally found a long-term home.
"I really do hope Buffalo is it," he said. "I think it's going to be a great fit for me."