Thompson takes flight at center for Sabers –

Written by admin

columnist image

One of the most fascinating aspects of NHL player training and development is the effort that goes into maximizing a player’s skills. It’s as nebulous and complex a topic as any, but critically important to franchises in their quest to build a competitor.

There are a thousand ways you could explore this topic, but one of the most intriguing storylines you can find in the league involves Tage Thompson and the Buffalo Sabers.

Thompson, a towering 6-foot-6 winger acquired from the St. Louis Blues in the summer of 2018 in Ryan O’Reilly’s mega trade, was an attractive acquisition piece for the Sabers, who were smitten with his combination of size and skill. But for years, Thompson looked like another chapter in the same book — an NHL team perpetually chasing a physical specimen who, for various reasons, is ineffective. Thompson was never bad, but he was unproductive enough that we lowered our expectations.

Between Don Granato, which permanently moved Thompson from wing to center at the start of the 2020-21 season. We see positional moves – even if it usually goes upside down – all the time at the NHL level, but this change has played out very differently. Thompson is becoming a top-six center.

There have been several contributing factors, not the least of which is the influx of young talent to the Sabers roster over the past two seasons, but Thompson’s production has skyrocketed. This season, he has already amassed 12 points (six goals, six assists) in nine games, picking up where he left off in 2021-22 (38 goals and 68 points in 78 games).

To show how central his progress has been, consider his year-over-year scoring rate. The past two seasons have seen him in the middle of the ice, regularly deployed with productive wingers Jeff Skinner and Alex Tuch. The change has been remarkable:

Embedded picture

From 2017 to 2020, Thompson was a fourth percentile scorer — or put another way, nearly every regular forward in the league outperformed Thompson on the offensive end. From 2021 to 2022, when Thompson has been exclusively at center, he is 25th league-wide (93rd percentile) in even-strength scoring. Thompson went from one of the least effective scorers in the league to one of the most effective in the league, in the blink of an eye.

You can attribute some of the scoring explosion to a very high shooting percentage that Thompson carries over the past season and the change. Converting on more than 11% of even-strength shots is tough for the world’s most talented snipers in the long run, so Thompson is likely due to a slight drop in scoring.

But Thompson, scoring or not, has just become a more efficient attacking player – so efficient that any sort of drop in shooting will be mitigated due to his line’s ability to press play.

Consider expected goal rates for, which measures shot volume adjusted for the quality of those shots. Elite players usually rank well here – scoring can be fleeting from game to game, but territorial dominance is less so, and most high-end attacking players tend to be that way because they have so many opportunities in any given season.

Embedded picture

We have seen rapid changes in the performance of NHL players in the past. Perhaps my favorite example of this in recent history is in Vegas, where Chandler Stephenson – famously acquired for a fifth-round pick – instantly went from fourth-row player to top-six gun.

In Stephenson’s case, the speed element of his game became a critically important complementary element further down the Vegas lineup. There, the Golden Knights put game-breaker Jack Eichel and elite two-way forward Mark Stone on Stephenson’s line – Eichel and Stone benefiting from Stephenson’s frenetic pace of play and speed on the outside , with Stephenson enjoying a serious boost in player talent around him. So, offensive burst.

Stephenson’s story may be a little more about the fit and quality of linemates than Thompson’s, but the bottom line is the same. The element of scouting never goes away, and coaches who find value where others can’t reach the top.

All this to say that Thompson’s story is far from over. The team may have found something additive offensively, perhaps significantly. But the Sabers as a team have yet to achieve any real success, and there are other areas of the game — say, defensively — where he and his teammates are still too lenient.

But Thompson serves as an important reminder that no two career arcs are the same when it comes to player development. There are trends, and there are likelihoods and probabilities, and there is meaningful research that helps us assess risk and implement future decisions.

All it takes is a Tage Thompson or a Don Granato to change the narrative.

Data via Natural Stat Trick,, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference

#Thompson #takes #flight #center #Sabers

About the author


Leave a Comment