This could be Sabres prospect Tage Thompson’s final stint in the American Hockey League.
Thompson, 21, nearly earned an NHL roster spot out of training camp, sticking with the Sabres until their final roster cuts Monday. At some point this season, they could summon the 6-foot-7, 215-pound winger for good.
“When he gets his chance, it’s possible he never comes back to Rochester,” said Sabres assistant general manager Randy Sexton, who oversees the Americans.
The Amerks open their season Friday against the Syracuse Crunch at Blue Cross Arena.
Sexton learned at Tuesday’s practice that Thompson had quickly embraced his demotion.
“He didn’t miss a beat,” he said. “He was flying; he was working. We could see him working on some of the things that we had asked him to do. I’ve got no doubt his game will come to the level" needed.
Thompson struggled with the Sabres last season, mustering seven goals in 65 games. Following his assignment to the Amerks in March, he often looked dominant, scoring eight goals in 11 outings.
Thompson packed on much-needed muscle during the offseason. Now, in addition to his skills, he possesses more physical attributes of a power forward.
“He’s right there,” Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said. “He wouldn’t have been here until (Monday) without having had an excellent camp. We thought he evolved in the right direction. He simplified when needed to in the second half of training camp. We’re excited about his future.”
Here are more Sabres prospects to keep an eye on in Rochester.
Center Rasmus Asplund
Asplund, a terrific two-way presence, is close to receiving his first NHL action.
“I think he’ll get (NHL) games,” Sexton said of this season.
Maturity and patience have buoyed his development. As a rookie last season, Asplund, 21, couldn’t generate much offense early.
Still, Amerks coach Chris Taylor lauded Asplund’s play then and said goals and points would materialize. The Swede, meanwhile, kept playing his regular style.
Asplund ended up scoring 10 goals and 41 points in 75 games.
“Rasmus came to North America with a full understanding that the road to Buffalo came through Rochester,” Sexton said. “I think …. Rasmus hasn’t put any pressure on himself to get there in a day, a week, a month.
“It’s more about trusting the process, putting in the work and continuing to work on the things we want him to work on.”
Winger C.J. Smith
The Sabres waived Smith, a prospect expected to fight for an NHL job, in their first round of assignments to the Amerks last month.
“Yeah, it (stinks), obviously not where I want to be and not how early I want to be sent down,” Smith said after scoring in last Friday’s 3-2 exhibition win against the Toronto Marlies at LECOM Harborcenter.
Despite the early demotion, Sexton said the Sabres are happy with Smith’s development.
“He’s made great strides,” he said. “He’s knocking on the door. He’s real close.”
Smith, 24, has quietly morphed into one of the AHL’s top scorers. Since the start of the 2017-18 season, the 102 points he has compiled ranks 18th in the league.
“C.J. has high-end skill,” Taylor said. “He’s making a statement. He’s not happy maybe that he’s down with us so early. But you know what? That’s going to only make him better. He’s working on his game.”
Like Thompson, Sexton said Smith was “flying” in practice after he cleared waivers.
“He’s certainly showing us the determination that says, ‘I’m going to get there,’ ” he said.
Forward Andrew Oglevie
Oglevie might’ve been the Sabres’ biggest surprise in training camp a year ago. Then concussions quickly derailed his rookie season, limiting him to just 25 AHL games.
But Oglevie, 24, has recovered and started grabbing the Sabres’ attention again.
Following his first game in the Prospects Challenge rookie tournament, Sexton said he “looked like he hadn’t missed a beat.”
In Sunday’s Amerks exhibition finale, the Notre Dame product scored a goal that Sexton said “was a great symbolism of Andrew as a player.”
“It was one part hockey sense, one part skill and one part unfettered determination,” he said. “It was remarkable.”
Oglevie kept scoring when Sexton watched him practice earlier this week.
“Honest to God, he scored 50 goals in practice,” Sexton said. “Everything he shot was going in.”
Defenseman Lawrence Pilut
Pilut, 23, immediately adapted to North American hockey last season, scoring three goals and 22 points in his first 16 games with the Amerks.
By early November, Sabres fans began clamoring for the Swede to be recalled.
They got their wish in early December, and Pilut played 33 NHL contests before returning to Rochester, where he injured a shoulder during the playoffs.
Pilut underwent surgery in May and missed NHL training camp.
“He’s getting close,” Sexton said of Pilut’s recovery. “We don’t have a date circled on the calendar.”
Like Thompson, Pilut could soon find himself with the Sabres for good.
Defenseman Will Borgen
Borgen can be overlooked because he doesn’t possess a lot of flair, but the St. Cloud State product is one of the Sabres’ best defense prospects.
When Borgen, 22, left college in 2018, Sexton said the details in his game “were few and far between.”
“But he’s got a great attitude, he works, he’s coachable, he’s got this hunger to learn,” he said.
Borgen played his first four games with the Sabres last season.
Sexton said having Gord Dineen replace Taylor, who’s subbing for assistant coach Don Granato in Buffalo, on an interim basis was “ideal.”
Granato took a leave of absence earlier this week after being hospitalized with pneumonia.
Dineen, 57, has been an assistant under Taylor for two years and also coached two AHL teams earlier in his career.
“He’s got this quiet demeanor about him,” Sexton said of Dineen. “He’s not threatening. He understands the mindset of the younger athletes now. He’s worked very hard to develop the techniques to build relationships with these guys, these guys.”
Dineen, a former NHL defenseman, played for Sexton when he was the Ottawa Senators’ GM.
Sexton said the Amerks’ leadership has helped the transition go smoothly.
“When Gord and I met with them,” he said, “they were like, ‘We got this. We understand. We really hope Donny gets better quickly. We understand that Gord is not Tails and Tails is coming back at some point.”
After earning invites to Sabres rookie camp and Amerks training camp, Rochester signed 6-foot-5 forward Brett Murray, 21, to an AHL contract on Thursday.
“We felt at this point in time, given he was a draft pick and improved significantly in a number of areas, it was a good bet to sign him,” Sexton said.
Sexton said Murray’s conditioning has improved over the last several months.
The Sabres selected him in the fourth round in 2016, 99th overall.