Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – The Buffalo Sabres will have at least three players representing the team in the upcoming World Championship in Latvia.
Colin Miller has been selected to play for Team Canada, while Arttu Ruotsalainen will suit up for Finland and Chris Drury has put Tage Thompson on the Team USA roster. Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams is on Drury’s staff with Team USA.
Former Sabres defenseman Matt Tennyson, now of the New Jersey Devils, has also been selected by Drury. Former Rochester Americans, and now New York Rangers winger Colin Blackwell is on the squad, as is Los Angeles Kings goalie and Sabres' 2013 fifth round pick Cal Petersen.
Thompson was floundering under Ralph Krueger and was looking like the NHL was just too much for him. Don Granato showed up and put him with Casey Mittelstadt and Rasmus Asplund, and he scored a career-high eight goals in just 38 games. That translates to 17 goals over 82 games.
As soon as Granato took over, Thompson scored seven goals and five assists for 12 points in 23 games. Granato was tough on Thompson, and after he took a bad penalty that cost the Sabres a chance to win a game later in the season, he was taken off Mittelstadt’s line and had his ice-time severely reduced.
“I bumped Tage down a couple of lines and had conversations with him and said, ‘Listen, you’re going to have to wait for your next opportunity,’" the Sabres interim head coach said of the 23-year-old. "This is just the way it works, and he was ready for his next opportunity, which wasn’t for a couple of games later.”
Thompson started the season on Jack Eichel’s line. It didn’t go well, as he seemed to almost be intimidated by Eichel. If Thompson made a bad pass, Eichel would glare at him or just shake his head on the way to the bench. Through it all, Thompson said it was good for him.
“I think it was huge," the young winger said. "I think just that directness from 'Donnie,' what he wanted from me, and just being given opportunity every time I stepped over the boards; just that clarity is something big for me.
“We got off to a pretty good start when 'Donnie' took over, and I think getting that confidence I started to roll a little bit and I ran with it.”
It was obvious that Thompson is a big fan of Granato.
“He challenges everyone, and I think that’s what we need. I think that says a lot about him," Thompson said. "Obviously he sees a lot in us and what we’re capable of, and holds us to a higher standard.
“For me, personally, some of the things he was preaching were every single night being able to take over games. I know we both believe that I’m capable of that, and now it’s just getting to that.”
Thompson got stronger last offseason, and I could see him try to use his big body more to give himself some room. I don’t think he’s there yet, and he said it’s a focus to improve on even more.
“I need to continue to fill out my frame, and I did a great job last summer, gaining weight and getting stronger. I think there’s always another level you can get to," Thompson said. "You should never be comfortable to where we’re at, and if I can get to that next level, it should be easier for me to take pucks to the net, using my body to hold off defensemen. I’m excited for the grind of this offseason and the payoff it’ll bring for next season.”
This is the second time Thompson has played for Team USA at the World Championship. He played his first tournament with the Americans in 2018 after his first season of professional hockey with the St. Louis Blues organization.
Just a few weeks after next season starts, the big winger will turn 24. I think he did a good job of saving his career this season.
Kevyn Adams has a decision to make for the Seattle Expansion Draft in July. The Sabres general manager will likely have to leave one of these three players unprotected: Thompson, Asplund and Anders Bjork. It may take Adams sending a draft pick to the Kraken to lay off of certain players.
Team USA opens the tournament in Riga, Latvia on May 22 against Ruotsalainen and Finland. Puck drop on the NHL Network is set for 9:15 a.m. ET.
Also, if you missed Thompson's end-of-season conference call, you can listen to it below: