March 28, 2023
Thompson flies at center for Sabers -

Thompson flies at center for Sabers –

One of the most fascinating parts of NHL coaching and player development is the effort that goes into maximizing a player’s abilities. It’s as nebulous and complex a subject as any, but vital for franchises to build a competitor.

You could explore this theme a thousand ways, but one of the most intriguing storylines you can find in The League involves Tage Thompson and the Buffalo Sabers.

Thompson, a hulking 6-foot-6 winger acquired from the St. Louis Blues in the summer of 2018 as part of the mega deal with Ryan O’Reilly, was an interesting acquisition for the Sabers, given his combination of size and skill were infatuated . But for years, Thompson looked like just another chapter in the same book — an NHL team is constantly chasing a physical specimen that’s ineffective for various reasons. Thompson was never bad, but he was so unproductive that we lowered our expectations.

Enter Don Granato, who moved Thompson permanently from the wing to the center at the start of the 2020-21 season. At the NHL level, we see positional changes all the time — although it’s usually inside-out — but that change played out very differently. Thompson is emerging as one of the top 6 centers.

There were several contributing factors, not the least of which was a surge of young talent into the Sabers roster over the past two seasons, but Thompson’s production has absolutely exploded. He has already accumulated 12 points (six goals, six assists) in nine games this season and is picking up exactly where he left off in 2021/22 (38 goals and 68 points in 78 games).

To show how strong his progress has been at the center, look at his year-over-year rate. For the past two seasons he has been in the center of the ice, regularly alongside prolific wingers Jeff Skinner and Alex Tuch. The change was remarkable:

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From 2017 through 2020, Thompson was a fourth-percentile goalscorer — or put another way, almost every regular forward in the league outplayed Thompson on offense. From 2021-2022, when Thompson was all center, he ranks 25th (93rd percentile) across the league (93rd percentile) on even strength. Thompson went from one of the league’s worst scorers to one of the league’s most effective in an instant.

You can attribute part of the scoring burst to a very high shot percentage that Thompson carries on over last season and the switch. It’s difficult over the long term for the world’s most talented snipers to convert more than 11 percent of consistent-power shots, so Thompson is likely to face a small scoring dip.

But Thompson, whether he scores or not, has just become a more effective offensive player – so effective that any kind of shooting weakness is somewhat mitigated due to his line’s ability to depress play.

Consider expected goal odds, which measure shot volume adjusted to the quality of those shots. Elite players generally do well here — scoring can be volatile from game to game, but territorial dominance is less so, and most high-end offensive players tend to be that way because they’re that way in a given season have many options.

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We’ve seen rapid changes in NHL player performance in the past. Perhaps my favorite example of this in recent history can be found in Vegas, where Chandler Stephenson – famously acquired for a fifth-round pick – immediately switched from fourth-row roleplayer to top-six weapon.

In Stephenson’s case, the speed element of his game became a crucially important complementary element further up the Vegas lineup. There, the Golden Knights brought gamebreakers Jack Eichel and elite two-way attacker Mark Stone to Stephenson’s line – Eichel and Stone benefited from Stephenson’s blistering pace of play and speed on the outside, Stephenson benefited from a serious surge of playing talent around him. voila, offensive blast.

Stephenson’s story may be a little more about fit and Linemate quality than Thompson’s, but the closing point is the same. The scouting element never goes away and the coaches finding value where others cannot excel.

All of this means Thompson’s story is far from over. The team may have found some additive offensively, maybe even significantly. But the Sabers as a team have yet to find any real win, and there are other areas of the game — say defensively — where he and his linemates are still too forgiving.

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 probabilities and probabilities, and there is powerful research to help us assess risk and act on future decisions.

It only takes a Thompson day or a Don Granato to change the narrative.

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

#Thompson #flies #center #Sabers #TSNca

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