Thompson is the younger brother of Buffalo Sabres superstar Tage Thompson. Formerly an NCAA hockey star as the captain of Providence College, Thompson has struggled to translate the success of his collegiate career to the professional level.
After his final game for Providence, the Devils gave Thompson his first taste of professional hockey near the end of 2020-21, and even had him play in seven contests at the NHL level.
Seven NHL games made it clear that Thompson would need some development at the AHL level before he’d truly be NHL-ready. So the Devils had him spend most of his injury-shortened 2021-22 campaign with their AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets. Thompson scored 15 points in 16 games and at times for Utica looked like the dominant player he was at Providence, but the injury he suffered meant that he couldn’t display that form over the course of an entire AHL season.
Last year, Thompson struggled to have the same kind of impact he had the year prior. In a year where he would have ideally made a strong push toward becoming a true NHLer, Thompson only managed 26 points in 56 games in the AHL. He only received two NHL games as a result, and lost ground on the Devils’ depth chart to more prolific AHL scorers such as Graeme Clarke.
With this trade, Thompson receives a change of scenery. It’s something that appeared necessary for his chances of becoming an NHLer, due to the fact that he so far has only scored five points in 15 games for Utica. A pending restricted free agent, this season is a crucial one for Thompson’s development.
This trade allows Thompson to develop in a new AHL environment, and it also lands him in an organization his family has some deep ties to. Thompson’s father, Brent, served as the Islanders’ AHL head coach from 2014-15 through 2022-23. Thompson’s assistant for two years, Rick Kowalsky, is now Bridgeport’s head coach. Beyond just the family connection, Kowalsky also has experience with Tyce Thompson, as he served as a coach in the Devils organization when Thompson originally signed with the club out of Providence.
As for the Devils’ side of this trade, the deal first and foremost is a nice service to Thompson, who looked less and less likely to be part of the club’s future plans. By sending him to an organization he already has some ties with, some may believe that they’re sending him to the place where he stands the best possible chance of developing into an NHL player.
Beyond just doing a favor to Thompson, they’re also receiving a quality player in return. Durandeau has been a nice developmental success story for the Islanders, as he’s already become a better player than most organizations would typically expect sixth-rounders to become.
A former teammate of Timo Meier and Nico Hischier with the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads, Durandeau worked his way up from the ECHL to become a solid top-six forward for the Bridgeport Islanders. In 2021-22, Durandeau cemented himself as a quality AHLer by scoring 15 goals and 37 points in 64 games. Then last season Durandeau had a real breakout campaign, putting together 24 goals and 55 points in 68 games. That performance ranked Durandeau third in team scoring and even earned him his first-ever NHL call-up.
Over the summer, Bridgeport lost two of its top scorers in Chris Terry and Andy Andreoff. The Islanders have struggled mightily to score goals as a result, and Durandeau’s production has declined sharply. At the time of writing, he has just four points in 12 AHL games, which is far below what Bridgeport’s fans have come to expect of him. Perhaps playing in a new environment in Utica will help Durandeau return to his production levels from the past two years.
He’s not heading to an extremely favorable environment, though, as although he’s leaving the AHL’s second-lowest scoring club, he’s only upgrading to a team that ranks 23rd in the AHL in goals scored.
It’s possible the plan for Durandeau in Utica is to pair him with fellow former QMJHL star and Montreal native Xavier Parent. Parent, who earned his way to Utica via a spectacular rookie professional campaign in the ECHL last season, would give Durandeau a caliber of linemate similar to what he grew accustomed to playing with Terry and Andreoff last year.
The bottom line for these deals is relatively simple: both players are in need of changes of scenery and both AHL squads need an offensive spark. The Islanders receive a former NCAA star who current and former members of their organization are likely highly familiar with, while the Devils receive a former QMJHL star who could potentially have chemistry with key AHLers in Utica.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images