Thompson, 22, was a big part of the trade that saw Ryan O’Reilly head to the St. Louis Blues in 2018, but failed to make an immediate impact in Buffalo. In 65 NHL games during the 2018-19 season, Thompson was held to just 12 points, struggling at times to be effective in any way for the Sabres. Starting at the minor league level in 2019-20 he looked to have an extra step, resulting in 12 points in 16 games with the Rochester Americans, but was injured almost immediately after earning a call-up. That injury resulted in season-ending shoulder surgery in early January, basically costing the young forward an entire development year.
With that inconsistent history, it’s easy to ask how he deserves a multi-year deal. The thing is, Thompson still has immense potential as a secondary scoring option in Buffalo. The Sabres and his camp both know that, but a three-year deal works as a nice middle-ground for both sides. The Sabres lock him in at a very reasonable price should he break out in 2020-21, while Thompson receives a nice salary bump and some security as he tries to work his way back from injury and show what he can do at the NHL level.
Standing 6’5″ with strong offensive instincts, Thompson does have 14 goals and 23 points in 24 games for Rochester over the last two seasons. He looked like a real difference-maker at the start of last season, and if that can carry over to give captain Jack Eichel and newly acquired Eric Staal another top-six option on the wing the deal will look like a steal. There’s no guarantee that happens, but the Sabres are looking for any way to climb out of their cycle of losing and taking a chance on a 22-year old first-round pick—instead of a veteran free agent—seems like a good bet.