Top Blues prospect Tage Thompson took the right step with AHL stint

Author: Jeremy Rutherford St. Louis Post-Dispatch Jeremy P. Rutherford
Date: Jun 5, 2017

When St. Louis Blues’ first-round draft pick Tage Thompson elected to forgo his final two years at the University of Connecticut and immediately report to the American Hockey League, his goal was not unlike most prospects.

“I feel like playing the rest of the season out in Chicago is going to help me get used to the pro game,” the 19-year-old forward said before joining the Wolves.

Three months and 26 games later, Thompson is sure he made the right choice. He didn’t always look the part of the 26th pick of the 2016 NHL draft, but that was the purpose of an AHL stint in which he had three goals and five points for Chicago.

“It was exactly what I needed and exactly what I was hoping for, a stepping stone,” Thompson said Tuesday. “Had I not made that jump at the end of the season, I wouldn’t have known probably what it takes. Ultimately the goal is to make St. Louis next season, so now that I’ve got the experience of playing in Chicago I’m more prepared for training camp.”

Thompson was one of four Blues prospects who got a late-season taste of life in the AHL with the plan of turning it into a longer look with the Blues. The others were defenseman Jake Walman and centers Jordan Kyrou and Adam Musil — all of whom will be at development camp in late June, followed by main camp in September.

It’s too early to tell which will be ready first for his NHL debut, but each now has a better feel for his strengths and weaknesses at the next level, as do the Blues.

Thompson was drafted as a forward who combines size (6 feet 5, 200 pounds) and skill and he delivered on those signs.

“For a young kid out of college coming in there like that, he was real competitive and that’s a big thing,” Chicago coach Craig Berube said. “He’s got a real good set of hands, he’s a good skater, and he’s smart, he knows how to play the game. He’s got to get stronger, which he will, but he’s a big kid who really hasn’t grown into his body yet.”

Thompson, who plans to be 215 pounds at the start of training camp, agreed.

“The biggest thing that stood out to me was obviously the strength of guys and then the pace,” he said. “Those are the two things I noticed right away and those are two things that I’ve got to focus on this summer — speed and strength.”

Thompson started at right wing with the Wolves, but moved to center.

“I’ll do whatever the team needs me to do, but I definitely feel way more comfortable in the middle,” he said.

Berube believes Thompson can be a top-six player at either position, but likes him at center.

“Anytime you can get a guy in the middle of the ice that has hands and can skate ... that’s what he’s good at, so I think having him in the middle, it will benefit not only him but the team,” Berube said. “I’m only going by the skill level (but) if things turn out properly, he definitely has top-six (potential).”

Walman, a third-round pick in 2014, arrived in late March and the 21-year-old from Providence College also impressed. The 6-1, 200-pound left-shooting defenseman contributed four goals and two assists in 15 games.

“He’s got this ability to take two strides and get away from people,” Berube said. “He needs to learn to distribute a little more, early on, like move it and join but he’s got this ability to skate with his speed — two, three strides and he’s gone. A great shot, too, an NHL shot. He’s got real good potential to be a top defenseman.”

Kyrou, a second-round selection in 2016, didn’t spend as much time with the Wolves as did Thompson and Walman. The 6-foot, 183-pound center came in April after a productive season with Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League, in which he pumped in 30 goals and 94 points in 66 games — including a 30-game point-streak.

“I learned a lot from being in St. Louis at development camp and main camp and I brought that over to Sarnia for the year,” the 19-year-old said. “I think the biggest improvement was my consistent play, just being better everywhere on the ice, especially the defensive zone.”

Kyrou played in just one game with the Wolves and didn’t have a point, but managed a couple of scoring chances.

“He only played one game for us but just in practice, he’s a highly skilled guy,” Berube said. “Great hands, vision, and can skate. He’s another potential guy that’s going to be in the top six in the NHL with his skill set.”

Kyrou’s speed, which Berube said “definitely stands out,” had Thompson impressed.

“We’re hoping that we could play together because I feel like we’d be a great combo,” Thompson said. “He looks to pass a lot and I’m more of a shooter. He’s a great kid and an even better hockey player. I look forward to playing with him.”

Musil, a fourth-round pick in 2015, arrived a week after Kyrou — following his season with Red Deer of the Western Hockey League. The 6-foot-3, 203-pound center had 20 goals and 51 points in 56 games with the Rebels. He didn’t see much action with the Wolves — just eight games — but did have three goals and five points in six postseason appearances.

“That’s great experience for them to get down there in that league and understand how hard it is,” Berube said. “That’s a good league, and it’s going to only help them down the road.”

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