Blues' 2016 first-round pick called turning pro "a gut
feeling" after leaving University of Connecticut after two seasons
ST. LOUIS -- Tage Thompson called the past two seasons spent playing for the University of Connecticut "two of the best years of my life."
But the Blues' 19-year-old 2016 first-round draft pick is ready to take the next stage in his advancement.
That means becoming a pro and foregoing the final two years of his college eligibility since the Huskies were eliminated from the Hockey East playoffs this past Saturday by Northeastern.
Thompson signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Blues on Tuesday beginning with the 2017-18 season, but he will report to the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves immediately and play out the rest of the season there.
"It's kind of just a gut feeling," the 6-foot-5, 200-pound center iceman said by phone Wednesday. "Between St. Louis telling me that they really wanted me out, that they were really excited having me after my sophomore season and me just sitting down with my dad, my advisor and feeling out what was best for me, we all agreed that it was probably the best situation for me to finish out the season in Chicago and get my feet wet in the pro game and kind of get some confidence. That way heading into training camp, I've got a little confidence and that experience is just going to help me hopefully make it right out of camp."
Thompson is the son of former NHLer and former AHL coach of the Blues' farm club the Peoria Rivermen (2005-09), Brent Thompson, who played 121 NHL games for the Los Angeles Kings, Winnipeg Jets and Phoenix Coyotes; he currently coaches the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL.
"It's a really comfortable feeling, too, because he's obviously went through it and he's not going to put me through a situation where he doesn't think I'm going to succeed," Tage Thompson said of his dad. "It's a very comfortable feeling knowing that he's on board with my decision and he actually agrees with it and supports me. It made that decision a lot easier."
Thompson just wrapped up his second season with the Huskies and had 19 goals and 13 assists in 34 games after a freshman season that had him tally 14 goals and 18 assists in 36 games.
Thompson said he'll look back on his life as Huskie with pride but the time was right to make the move.
"It honestly was probably two of the best years of my life," Thompson said. "It was a really big piece of my development, being able to come in and playing against older guys and it helped me physically mature and mentally mature, which is ultimately going to help me take the next step to the pro game that much easier just because of having that base of playing against older guys. It's going to help the transition."
Thompson was also part of the USA World Junior squad that won a gold medal in Montreal in January where he had a goal and four assists in seven games.
"One of the greatest moments of my life," Thompson said. "I'm sure every kid grows up watching that tournament hoping and dreaming that they can play in it one day. You watch some of the games growing up and you're like, 'Wow! I want to play in that US-Canada game someday.' For it to finally happen and for us to win gold in Canada, in Montreal, playing against Canada was a surreal feeling and it was literally like a movie. It's going to be a memory that's going to stay with me for the rest of my life for sure. It's such a rewarding feeling doing it with that group of guys."
Thompson said he's had trouble putting on weight on his tall, lanky frame but has added 15 pounds since he attended Blues' developmental camp last summer and had improved his coordination on skates.
"I think I grew with my skating quite a bit in a short period of time, which can fill out your coordination," Thompson said. 'For me, it was spending that time on my skating, just getting back into the groove of things after that awkward stage once you've grown three or four inches in a short period of time. Just getting my feet back under me and my strength I think was a big thing. I'm really tall and lanky, so for me, it's hard to put on weight, but I'm just trying to focus on getting as strong as possible. Eventually the weight's going to come. I'm not worried about that. That's something that comes with age and as you physically mature and develop."
Thompson comes to Chicago this season technically on an amateur contract so as to not burn a year of his entry-level deal away. And he'll join the Wolves in the thick of a Calder Cup playoff race.
|Blues 2016 No. 1 pick Tage Thompson helped the United|
States World Junior team capture the gold medal this year.
The Wolves entered play Wednesday with a 35-17-4 record, good for second place in the Central Division and two points behind front-runner Grand Rapids.
"I'm extremely excited to come into a team that's doing really well and has got a good chance going into the playoffs," Thompson said. "I'm really excited to be a part of that. Hopefully I can help them win the Calder Cup here. I'm really, really excited and I can't explain it enough. That's also one of the reasons why I wanted to finish out the year in Chicago to get that experience and that playing time, that pro experience under my belt.
"Obviously I want to go in and make an impact, but my goal is to play in the NHL as long as possible and for that, you need to develop. I think for me the best development path is going to be going to Chicago, playing and helping them win. In doing that, it's going to help me showcase what I can do and ultimately hopefully get me to the NHL."