This time last year, Tage Thompson was still a member of Blues.
It wasn’t until July 1st that the winger was traded to Buffalo in a blockbuster deal that sent Ryan O’Reilly and a pair of draft picks back to St. Louis.
By January of this past season, both squads were struggling to put a winning product on the ice.
O’Reilly and the Blues ultimately went from worst to first and secured the franchise’s first Stanley Cup while the Sabres, who raced to the top of the NHL standings at the end of November, finished near the bottom of the standings and missed the playoffs for an eighth straight year.
“Bittersweet,“ Thompson said when asked about watching St. Louis win hockey’s greatest prize.
“Obviously it sucks. You want to win the Cup. You don’t want to see anyone else win it, especially your old team. I’m happy for a lot of the guys I played with. It’s nice to see them win one. I know how hard they worked and what it means to them.“
Thompson will forever be linked to O’Reilly, who also won the Conn Smythe as the most valuable player of the postseason and Selke Trophy, as the best defensive forward in the league this past season.
The 21-year-old had his share of ups and downs in his first season in the Queen City, scoring just seven goals and 12 points in 65 games.
“It is what it is. Ryan O’Reilly is an unbelievable player. It’s no surprise that he’s having unbelievable success with St. Louis.
With myself, I can only control what I can control. I don’t know if there is a lot of talk about me not performing or whatever, but I try to focus on what I can do to get better and what I can do to improve my game. It’s a process. It’s not a race to get there. I want to be a long-term NHL player and for the Sabres for a long time. Development is a slow process. I’m willing to work and do whatever the coaches need me to do to eventually get there.“
While the year with the big club didn’t quite go as planned, when Thompson was sent down to the team’s AHL affiliate in Rochester, he found success and gained confidence in his game.
In the final eight regular season games with the Amerks, the winger tallied six goals and would also score twice in the first round of the postseason.
“You go down there and get some playing time and (head coach Chris Taylor) put me in a bunch of good situations,‘ Thompson said. “I think once you get those puck touches back and start feeling the puck and a couple go in for you, you get confidence back in your game.“
Now working through his first full offseason with Buffalo, Thompson is hoping to carry his end of season success with Rochester into camp and then the regular season.
“Now I’ve been here for the whole summer and I’m a little more comfortable this time around,“ he said. “Coming to the rink and seeing some familiar faces it makes you a little more calm.“