BUFFALO – Sabres winger Tage Thompson knows everything he just earned – one of 23 coveted roster spots and a place on a scoring line – can vanish in a hurry.
As a rookie a year ago, Thompson cracked St. Louis’ opening-night lineup just months after leaving college. The former first-round pick lasted four games before the Blues demoted him to the San Antonio Rampage.
“You never want to feel comfortable,” Thompson said prior to Thursday’s season-opening 4-0 loss to the Boston Bruins inside KeyBank Center. “As soon as you get comfortable, I feel like you start getting complacent and that’s when other people pass you.”
The Sabres, of course, rely on youngsters more than the veteran-laden Blues. After the Sabres acquired Thompson, 20, in the Ryan O’Reilly trade July 1, he said he felt “pigeon-holed” in St. Louis, words that irked some Blues fans.
“I was just excited, more so talking about the opportunity I have here, where I’m going to get an opportunity to play and hopefully showcase my skills,” Thompson said.
So far, Thompson has seized his early opportunities, impressing Phil Housley so much during training camp the coach awarded him duty at right wing beside center Patrik Berglund and Conor Sheary on Thursday.
“He had a lot of good looks,” Housley said of Thompson’s preseason. “I like his size, his speed, he’s heavy on the forecheck.”
Housley also likes that Thompson utilizes his 6-foot-6, 205-pound body to get to the net.
“He’s going to be a good net-front presence for us,” Housley said. “That’s where he’s going to a get a lot of his goals. But he’s got to use his speed and bring a physical element.”
Those assets are why the Sabres insisted the Blues include Thompson in their package for O’Reilly.
“You don’t want to let them down,” Thompson said.
Thompson’s line is either the Sabres’ second or third trio. He said his linemates “hound the puck relentlessly.”
Thompson knows Berglund, an 11-year veteran, from the Blues. Sheary, meanwhile, won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins and scored 23 goals two seasons ago.
“He played with arguably the best player in the world, Sidney Crosby,” Thompson said. “(He’s a) very smart player, reads plays well, he’s always in the right spot, he’s very solid defensively, 200-foot player.”
Thompson was one of seven new faces in Thursday’s lineup. Two other former Blues teammates – goalie Carter Hutton and winger Vladimir Sobotka – also played.
Thompson said he feels like he’s “a part of something special here.”
“There’s a really good feeling in the room right now from what I can tell,” he said. “I think everyone’s excited not only because hockey’s starting up, but because the culture and identity we’re trying to build starting fresh. I think that’s got everyone excited, including myself.
Thompson shuttled between the Blues and the AHL last season, compiling three goals and nine points in his first 41 NHL games.
Thanks to the Sabres’ futility, the rivalry between the Sabres and Bruins has cooled in recent years. But back in the 1980s and early 90s, the division foes were bitter enemies.
Housley has said he remembers the Bruins being the Sabres’ fiercest rival.
“It was a physical game,” said Housley, who played eight years for the Sabres. “I mean, you had two small buildings, whether you’re in the old (Boston) Garden or in the old Aud. There wasn’t a lot of room out there. You had to get prepared and set your mind right it was going to be a physical game.
“I still feel there’s a really good rivalry with the Bruins up to this point. We’ve had some good games with them, it’s physical. So I wouldn’t expect anything different.”
The Rochester Americans, the Sabres’ AHL affiliate, named forward Kevin Porter their captain Thursday. Porter, 32, also captained the Amerks last season and during his first stint in the organization in 2012-13.
Center Kyle Criscuolo and defensemen Taylor Fedun, Andrew MacWilliam, Nathan Paetsch and Zach Redmond will rotate as the alternate captains.
The Amerks open their season tonight at home against the Charlotte Checkers.
The Sabres made winger Remi Elie, a waiver claim from the Dallas Stars on Tuesday, and defenseman Matt Tennyson healthy scratches. Defenseman Zach Bogosian (lower body) also missed the game.
With Bogosian sidelined, defenseman Marco Scandella subbed as an alternate captain.