The St. Louis Blues saw a lot of raw potential when they drafted Tage Thompson. He did nothing to change that perception, but he did nothing to boost it either.
When the St. Louis Blues drafted Tage Thompson in 2016, there was a lot of hope mixed with some reality. Everyone raved about his hands and his skating ability. The knocks against him were his strength and size (not height).
In his rookie campaign, we saw it all with Thompson. We saw why he was so highly touted and could be an extremely good NHL player. We also saw why he is considered so raw and even the most novice among us could see that he is a definite work in progress.
Most of us knew his size, in terms of height, would be an asset. We knew his size, in terms of weight was going to be a hindrance.
Thompson sprouted upward late in life, so he had developed a small man’s game but a small man’s abilities. His stick work was better than your average player, much less your average 6’5 player. However, he simply has to bulk up.
Thompson is listed at 205 lbs, give or take a pound or two, depending on the site. While none of us are top athletes, there are plenty of people walking the streets that are six feet tall or under and weight more than that. An unfair comparison, to be sure, but just something to keep in mind.
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He simply cannot stay that slim. Nobody is asking him to become some behemoth. We’ve seen other athletes bulk up in unnecessary ways and it was to the detriment of their game. The more weight you are carrying around, the harder it is on the legs to push that weight, especially with any speed.
That said, when someone five inches taller than me weighs less than me and is an athlete, it shows how thin they are. Thompson has to get bigger and stronger if he wants to stay in the NHL for a full season and be a factor in that full season.
Final Grade: Incomplete
It may seem like somewhat of a cop-out not to give Thompson a grade, but we simply did not see enough of him.
Thompson did feature in 41 games in 2017-18. However, it was rarely in a really long stretch. Most of the time it would be five games here or 10 games there.
From a coaching standpoint, you could understand that Mike Yeo had to do what was best for the team. From a fan standpoint, it just felt like Thompson was never allowed to become comfortable with any spot on the team. That is the life for a young, professional athlete, but it makes it harder to grade from the outside.
On the positive side, he showed flashes of what he could be. He had slick hands and quick feet and an ability to turn on a dime in close quarters. The negative of those same things is he would try to reverse away from pressure too many times and get boxed in by savvy defenders.
Thompson did score three goals and amass nine points in his first trip through the NHL. That does not sound impressive through 41 games, but it is not terrible for a learning experience, especially when he averaged less than 12 minutes per game.
Thompson was decent defensively, as he picked up 20 takeaways over the year. He will need to improve on his puck management though. He was credited with 11 giveaways.
One of his problems going forward has nothing to do with himself. Like Robby Fabbri before him, the team is interested in playing him at center but never let him play center. As Doug Armstrong has said, the NHL is not the league to learn in, but it’s hard to just magically switch a player once they get comfortable with certain aspects of the game at the highest level.
At the beginning of the year, it was hard to see why the team was not giving Thompson more of an opportunity. He hustled, played hard and skated very well. The downsides to his game were not visible to the eye of fans, making it more frustrating.
Toward the end of the year, you could see more of what Mike Yeo was talking about. There were missed defensive assignments, he seemed a little lost at times and he was getting overpowered. Those are all fixable things, but things he has to clean up quickly if he’s going to stay with the Blues and not San Antonio in 2018-19.
Thompson can and should be a good NHL player over the course of his career. We’ve seen enough in his game to think that. We’ve seen enough from some people to have thought the same in the past but it never came to fruition. So, he is very much still a work in progress.
Thompson gave us no reason to think he will not continue to grow, both physically and mentally. We are still in wait-and-see mode with him for now.