At first glance, one might wonder why Tage Thompson isn’t a lock for the top 15. Thompson scored 14 goals and 32 points in just 36 games as a freshman with the University of Connecticut — one of the best draft-year NCAA performances in recent memory. Not only can he score, but listed at 6’5", Thompson has the size that NHL teams covet so dearly. And while predominantly a right winger, he can also play centre.
Dig a little deeper, however, and there is cause for concern. UConn lived and died by its power play, and Thompson was a huge component. He scored 13 of his 14 goals with the man advantage (which led the NCAA), and contributed six of 18 assists while his team was up a man. The 14.4% shooting rate is a tad concerning, but the stellar impact of Thompson’s linemate, Max Letunov, is a red flag.
Although Letunov has major question marks surrounding the sustainability of his production, he was one of the NCAA’s top freshmen, at both ends of the rink. His tremendous skill level makes him the primary puck carrier and more dynamic of the two.
Birthplace: Oyster Bay, New York
Position: Right Wing / Centre
Weight: 185 lbs
Despite these concerns, Thompson possesses plenty of upside. Towering 18-year-old forwards normally have mechanical skating issues, but Thompson isn’t one. His speed is merely average, but he displays plenty of smoothness and coordination.
While he does possess a booming shot, particularly a one-timer from the left circle on the power play, that’s not where he scores the majority of his goals. He’s utilizes his puck-handling, reach, and a quick release to snag loose pucks below the hash marks and beat goaltenders. His shot is a bit erratic at times, but it packs a serious punch and the release is lightning fast.
At even strength, Thompson isn’t quite as a noticeable. He does make decent offensive plays, typically as a distributor, however, I don’t see his playmaking as being nearly as potent as his shot. It will be important for him to shoot more and get himself into better positions at even strength to improve his odds of making the NHL.
One area that has seen tremendous growth over the course of the season is defensive play. Thompson started the year as a fairly average defensive player, but improved to the point where he was the second half (with Letunov) of a formidable penalty-killing duo. At even strength he’s a dedicated backchecker who usually picks up his assignment. He excels at clogging lanes and forcing turnovers. Although he could win more battles, his defensive value is skyrocketing upward.
"Our power play was set up very similar to how the Washington Capitals set theirs up," Cavanaugh said. "[Thompson] was in (Alex) Ovechkin's position. Max, who played (Nicklas) Backstrom's position, was able to find him quite a bit for one-timers. Tage didn't miss often. If he gets the puck in space and can one-time it, he can bury it. He also had some goals crashing the net with his big body."
"He's a pro player. For him to go into that program and get the ice time and production he's getting, he's getting bigger and stronger and his skating has picked up. He upgraded his skating even though he didn't need to, so he's one of these guys who can get in, protect the puck, get it to the net and he's hard to check."
Brings a great deal of size, strength and offensive abilities right down the middle of the ice. He’s emerged as one of college hockey’s most dangerous freshman goal scorers. Showed poise with the puck. Has a quick and deceptive release.
Future Considerations: 30th
ISS Hockey: 24th
Central Scouting service: 20th (North American skaters)
Hockey Prospect: 25th
DraftBuzz Hockey: 30th
Thompson is a fascinating case of upwards development. Late-1997 born, he was a member of USA's gold-medal-winning team at the World Juniors last year, but was a bottom-six forward with the USNTDP. He started the season at UConn on the fourth line, but a few games later found himself atop the lineup and never looked back.
If you’re looking for a physical, power forward, Thompson isn’t it. He’s not a physical presence, and in fact could really stand to improve his ability to win battles. He doesn't necessarily shy away from contact, but he certainly doesn't initiate, and that's something he could work on to shift the flow of play into his team's favour. However, if you’re looking for a quality sniper, a lethal power-play threat, and a potential penalty killer at the NHL level who has room to grow, Thompson may very well be a first-round target.
I think he’s a fair bit behind the other American snipers — USNTDP’s Kieffer Bellows and the University of Wisconsin’s Luke Kunin — but Thompson is a quality prospect, albeit a late-first-round type in what is thought to be a weaker draft class in 2016.
He's certainly not a legitimate option at ninth overall, all things considered, but definitely a possibility for the Canadiens if he slips into Day Two of the draft.