Position: Right Wing
2015-16 Team: Connecticut
League: Hockey East
Hometown: Orange, Conn.
One Tuesday night in February there were 30 NHL scouts in attendance for UConn's game against Brown -- all to watch Huskies freshman Tage Thompson. The U.S. NTDP alum had scouts flocking to watch his every move as he powered his way to 14 goals and 18 assists as a true freshman in Hockey East.
As highly anticipated as his freshman season was around NHL scouting circles, his improvement from October to March was noticeable. He rounded out his game and learned to use his size and strength to his advantage. He played with more of a purpose and became a better all around player.
"Tage has really matured as a hockey player. He's become more physical. He's stronger on the puck. He has a great shot," said UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh before the Hockey East Tournament.
"Strength and the speed at what I play at," said Thompson of the biggest improvements he made in his rookie season. "My main focus was moving the puck quicker, making faster decisions and winning puck battles."
Thompson, who stands at six-foot-five, is a big presence on the ice and scores a lot of his goals from down low. He was able to use his size to generate time and space, especially on the power play. His 13 goals on the man advantage led the country by three.
In one late October viewing, Thompson's first home Hockey East game against Boston University, he scored a hat trick, all three tallies coming on the power play. The first two goals were scored from a combined two to three feet from the crease. His third was an absolute rocket of a one-timer from the left circle.
It was a good representation of the strengths of Thompson's game and how he scored goals as a freshman in Hockey East. Thompson has great feet for a big guy. His footwork shows, especially when he's working in down low and winding up for a huge one-timer on the left side.
"I try to play a power forward game, be strong on the puck down low and limit my turnovers in the neutral zone," said Thompson.
Thompson played most of the season alongside Arizona Coyotes prospect Max Letunov, who led the Huskies in scoring with 16 goals and 24 assists. Letunov, a Russian-born center, has a similar frame and was consistently one of the best rookies in the league.
"We have great chemistry. It's a special connection. We know where each other is most of the time," said Thompson of his linemate.
Down the stretch, Cavanaugh utilized Thompson as a defenseman on the penalty kill. His reach and good stick were seen as benefits as the Huskies looked to clear the net front and keep pucks to the perimeter while down a man.
Thompson's father is Brent Thompson, the head coach of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the AHL affiliate of the New York Islanders. His father had a brief NHL career and played quite a few seasons in the minors. Suffice to say, the elder Thompson has instilled quite a few thoughts on the game.
"He's given me quite a few lessons. Play every shift like it's your last. Give it your all," said Thompson on the most important piece of advice his father has given him.
Thompson is a product of the U.S. National Team Development Program (U.S. NTDP) where he grew quite a bit -- literally and physically.
"I came into the program at 6-1, 160. Obviously I gained a lot of size and strength," said Thompson. "Practicing with high end players day in and day out and the high level of competition was huge. There was a lot of exposure," he added on the benefits of USA Hockey's program.
Thompson, whose longest point streak, five games, of the season came down the stretch, seemed to thrive under the added pressure cooker that is being under the microscope of NHL scouts.
"It's fun -- anytime you have a little pressure to succeed. If you can rise to the occasion, it's something I tried to use as an advantage. I just want to help the team anyway possible," said Thompson who also has a younger brother, '99 Providence recruit Tyce, who is quite a good player.
Draft Projection: His size, strength, footwork and shot give NHL scouts plenty of reason to believe his ceiling is extremely high. He's rated 20th by NHL Central Scouting Service in the final rankings. Anywhere in the bottom of the first round or beginning of the second round is a reasonable prediction, but it would be shocking to this observer if he fell out of the first round.