BUFFALO – Sabres center Tage Thompson acknowledged that, yes, the Stanley Cup that Ryan O’Reilly won in 2019, his first season in St. Louis, is always in the back of his mind.
“But at the same time, it doesn’t change my objective,” Thompson said prior to Thursday’s 6-2 loss to the Blues, his former team, at KeyBank Center. “My objective is to come here and help our team win and help any way I can to be better and individually try to grow and get better as a player.”
Thompson, 24, has grown a lot this season, scoring 33 goals and emerging as one of the stars for the upstart Sabres, who possess a bundle of young talent.
The blockbuster trade that sent O’Reilly to St. Louis in 2018 in exchange for Thompson and three other pieces looks a whole lot better for the Sabres.
A visit from O’Reilly and the Blues only sheds more attention on Thompson’s breakout season and a deal that has started paying dividends for both teams.
“Tage, the ceiling is so high for him still,” said Sabres coach Don Granato, who helped ignite Thompson by moving him from right wing to center this season.
In the aftermath of O’Reilly winning the Cup and earning Conn Smythe Trophy honors as playoff MVP, the deal, which has been well-documented over the years, looked downright brutal for the Sabres.
Thompson did not secure regular duty until Granato took over almost 13 months ago. Patrick Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka, the veteran forwards the Sabres acquired, had zero impact before leaving, combining to score just eight goals.
The Sabres also received a first-round pick, which they used to select defenseman Ryan Johnson, who’s still in college.
The 6-foot-7 Thompson, however, was the big piece, having been selected 26th overall by the Blues in 2016.
Thompson’s confidence in himself and the patience he exhibited through some difficult years – he was scratched, demoted and injured – have helped him begin reaching his enormous potential.
“It took a little bit longer for me to get where I’m at now,” Thompson said. “But it’s a process and … you can’t compare yourself to other people. Everyone progresses at different paces and I always knew I would eventually get there as long as I just kept putting in the work and stayed mentally strong through adversity. I think I did a good job of that.”
Part of that included not getting caught up in being one of the guys traded for O’Reilly.
“Everyone knows O’Reilly’s an unbelievable player and I don’t think it was any shock that he was going to go in there and make a difference for them,” said Thompson, who acknowledged he has a chip on his shoulder from the trade. “When that happens, I think I was expecting something like that to happen.
“You can only control what you can control. All the outside noise I think you just try to block off and focus on what you can do to get better every day.”
Sabres rookie defenseman Mattias Samuelsson, who briefly left Tuesday’s 5-2 win after blocking a shot, missed Thursday’s game.
“Mattias is hour to hour, day to day,” Granato said Thursday morning.
Samuelsson, who blocked a blast from Auston Matthews, played 23 minutes, 20 seconds against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
To replace Samuelsson, 22, Will Butcher moved into the lineup and skated beside rookie Casey Fitzgerald.
Defenseman Jacob Bryson, Fitzgerald’s partner Thursday, moved to the left side with Rasmus Dahlin, Samuelsson’s partner Tuesday.
The pairing of rookie Owen Power, who made his home debut Thursday, and Henri Jokiharju remained intact.
In other lineup news, center Cody Eakin returned Thursday after an undisclosed injury sidelined him two games.
To make room for Eakin, the Sabres scratched winger John Hayden. Meanwhile, Peyton Krebs, who filled in at center, moved back to left wing.
The Sabres also scratched winger Anders Bjork and defensemen Colin Miller and Mark Pysyk.