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Confidence key for Tage Thompson to stay in Sabres lineup

Tage Thompson is used to being on the move.

Thompson’s father, Brent, played in the NHL, American Hockey League and International Hockey League from 1991 to 2005, and has coached professional hockey since 2003, when he was a player/assistant with the Canadian Hockey League's Colorado Eagles.

The younger Thompson grew acclimated to frequently packing his belongings, going to new schools and meeting new teammates as his father pursued a coaching career. He learned how to adjust on the fly, not just in hockey, but in everyday situations.

“Being able to adapt to new environments and new situations, it helps, especially with being traded,” said Thompson, a wing in the Buffalo Sabres’ training camp. “Being able to pick up and move, whenever you’re called to do that.”

Thompson enters his second full season of pro hockey and he wants to stay in one place this season: the Sabres lineup.

Thompson split the 2017-2018 season between the Blues and San Antonio, its AHL affiliate. Thompson scored nine points (three goals, six assists) in 41 games with the Blues, and scored 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in 30 games with the Rampage.

The 20-year-old joined Buffalo as part of a trade in July that sent Ryan O’Reilly to St. Louis for a first-round draft pick in 2019, a second-round pick in 2021 and forwards Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka.

Thompson has a precise shot and deceptive speed. When it looks like he’s gliding across the ice, he’s actually covering plenty of ground; he’s the Sabres’ tallest skater at 6-foot-5. Goalies Jonas Johansson and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (who was reassigned Sunday to Sudbury of the Ontario Hockey League) also are listed at 6-foot-5.

He can also create plays with a burst of speed from the neutral zone, and has a physical presence on the ice.

“I can help contribute a lot of offense, and I think I’ve got a pretty good shot and a knack for making plays,” Thompson said. “I like to score goals. We’ve got a lot of players, especially up the middle, that can make really good plays and really solid puck-movers, so I think that’d be a great pairing.”

Tage Thompson looking for elusive landing spot in Buffalo

Having a few familiar faces has helped Thompson in his second professional camp. He participated in training camp with Sobotka, Berglund and goalie Carter Hutton last September with the Blues, and skated on a line with Sobotka in the Sabres’ intrasquad scrimmage Sunday at HarborCenter.

“He’s got speed and he’s a good shooter, so I’m just trying to make a play to him and let him do his thing,” Sobotka said.

Sobotka immediately noticed Thompson’s confidence on the ice as a rookie with the Blues in 2017. Some rookies are hesitant to stand out in a crowded training camp.

Not Thompson.

“I recognized him on the ice because he wasn’t scared to make a play as a young guy who just got in the league,” said Sobotka, a center from the Czech Republic and a 12-year NHL and KHL veteran.

“You can’t be scared to do something on the ice. It doesn’t have to be too much, but it has to be as much that’s going to make you good, or make a good play, or even chip the puck in. You need to know which time is good to make a play or a good time to put the puck deep and make a change.”

Confidence is vital for Thompson as a younger player looking to make an impression on the coaching staff and on his potential teammates.

“I know that if you go in a little timid, that’s when you make mistakes,” Thompson said. “It’s better to make mistakes out of confidence, because then you learn what works for you and what doesn’t. When you’re too scared to make plays, you’ll never know what works for you.”

That mentality should help Thompson stick with the Sabres, who have stockpiled their lineup with young talent, and aim to turn the organization into a playoff contender.

Sobotka believes Thompson has a shot to make the Sabres lineup.

“I think he is (more comfortable) here,” Sobotka said. “He’s playing with confidence, and he’s not scared to make a play or beat somebody one-on-one.”

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