As the Buffalo Sabres were leaving KeyBank Center early Thursday afternoon, Tage Thompson was stepping on the ice for his first practice in Rochester.
His first season in Buffalo likely came to an end when the 21-year-old winger was assigned to the Amerks. Thompson had seven goals and five assists with a minus-22 rating in 65 games during his first season with the Sabres.
Thompson had been expected to join Rochester at the end of the Sabres' regular season since they made him eligible for the AHL playoffs last month, and the assignment will allow him to become acclimated with his new teammates as they fight for a North Division title over the final eight games.
Rather than filling a bottom-six role in the NHL, Thompson will be given the opportunity to play what coach Phil Housley called "meaningful minutes."
"I think it’s all part of his development and his plan," Housley explained. "He got some meaningful games up here, did a really good job, but it gives him a chance to get acquainted with his new teammates, get some meaningful minutes and get ready for the playoffs.”
Thompson, a 6-5 former first-round draft pick, struggled with the physical demands of an NHL season. He did not forecheck with enough consistency and relied too much on his individual skill in the offensive zone. Thompson earned an audition on the Sabres' top line with a string of strong performances in early January, only to be demoted after one difficult game in Carolina.
One promising game was often followed by one with little contributions. In addition to struggling defensively, Thompson lacked strength along the boards since he has yet to fill out his lanky frame. He was acquired from St. Louis as part of the Ryan O'Reilly trade last July and had three goals with six assists during a 41-game stint with the Blues last season.
Thompson played just 12 minutes, 18 seconds in a 4-0 loss in Ottawa on Tuesday and averaged 12 minutes, 8 seconds this season. He had zero goals and one assist with a minus-12 rating in his last 22 games.
Rather than insert Scott Wilson into the lineup with Evan Rodrigues also day-to-day because an upper-body injury, the Sabres elected to promote winger Victor Olofsson from Rochester on Wednesday. Olofsson, 23, had 27 goals among a team-high 60 points in 64 games with the Amerks. A former seventh-round draft pick, he had a breakout season a year ago by scoring 27 goals as a teammate of Rasmus Dahlin's with Frolunda HC of the Swedish Hockey League.
"That I'm good enough to play up here," Olofsson said when asked what he hoped to show the Sabres in his first NHL opportunity. "This is going to help me out for next year too, so I’m just going to work as hard as I can and play my best."
Defenseman Jake McCabe, who was expected to miss five-to-six weeks with an upper-body injury, participated as an extra in the Sabres' morning skate Thursday. He had not played in a game since a 5-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 14 but has skated with rehab and development coach Dennis Miller for roughly two weeks.
McCabe, who has four goals with 10 assists and a minus-7 rating in 55 games, is hopeful he can get enough practice time in to appear in one of the Sabres' final games this season.
"I’d like to get into a couple practices here," McCabe said. "We obviously don’t have a lot of games here. It’s been tough for me to at least get a practice with the team since we haven’t been practicing a ton. Yeah, hopefully I’ll practice tomorrow and take it day by day, really. It’s gone really well to this point, so I’m just taking it day by day and improving every day."
Defensemen Zach Bogosian (lower body), Matt Hunwick (upper body) and Rasmus Ristolainen (illness) did not skate and were not available to play Thursday night against Detroit.
Pominville nominated for Masterton
Winger Jason Pominville was named the Buffalo chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association’s nominee for the Masterton Trophy.
The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to the NHL player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey.” All 31 PHWA chapters nominate one player, and the winner will be chosen among three finalists in June.
"Definitely nice to be able to represent the team," Pominville, 36, said shortly after receiving the news Thursday morning. "I think it’s a trophy that represents a lot of perseverance and dedication. So to have a chance to be nominated and represent the team, city is definitely an honor."
With three Sabres defensemen unavailable Thursday against the Red Wings, defenseman Matt Tennyson was recalled from Rochester.
Tennyson, 28, had a minus-4 rating in four games with the Sabres earlier this season. He had four goals with 16 assists and a minus-7 rating in 45 games with the Amerks. Entering Thursday, Tennyson had 20 points in 124 NHL games with Buffalo, Carolina and San Jose.