NCAA Accelerated Track: UCONN’s Tage Thompson

With the rise of the USHL as a serious and effective training ground for American prospects, the NCAA is seeing an influx of talented youth much quicker than ever before and it’s not just open to the so called ‘elite.’ Historically, college hockey has been seen as an early draft year destination for cream of the crop players such as Parise, Toews, and Eichel, but as of last year, there seems to be a shift in a variety of prospects now taking aggressive routes to their preferred colleges. NTDP U18 alum, Tage Thompson, is the latest to dive head first into DI hockey and presents a very intriguing development opportunity/model.

All in a matter of an offseason, the UCONN Huskies gave their hockey program a shot in the arm with their incoming freshman class and spiced things up in terms of becoming an NHL scouting ground. Led by top forward and Coyotes prospect Max Letunov, Thompson joins fellow NTDP’er Joe Masonius and BCHL, Sens 3rd rounder Miles Gendron. Thompson comes from playing up with NTDP U18 in his pre draft year albeit in a depth role. He never fully flexed his package like a top player, but did show very good puck control, which is a beautiful sight from a 6’5 towering forward. If you look at USHL play alone, Thompson scored 14PTS in 25GP with U18 while consensus 2016 top 10 Max Jones scored 10PTS in 24GP with U17.

In 4GP this year, he has been attached to centerman Letunov’s hip and looks to be in a prime position to ‘overperform’ offensively in a sense and really jolt his prospect status. He already has 4A for PPG, and has shown flashes of high end stickhandling. One of his recent assists came off of a lost play in the slot after he deked the pants off an opponent. Letunov swooped in thereafter and scored on his backhand. He doesn’t look like a first year player, handling the pace and physicality well thanks to his USDP upbringing. His hands are great for his size, and as he’s getting his first bit of action underneath him will learn to protect the puck better. Right now, he’s 50-50 in puck dealing as it’s not always the smoothest reception, dish, or stickhandle. He’s a big forward who depends on his skill instead of grit. As such, he plays with a reactionary pace that will only get more efficient as he reads the unfolding play quicker. A comparable player, very loosely, coming into college hockey last year in AJ Greer, scored 7PTS in 37GP and was given enough rope for his mediocre start as a freshman to be selected in the early 2nd round.

As long as he continues to soak up 1st line real estate, Thompson will be buoyed by Letunov’s special ability. He has a pivot he can lean on, and also will be exposed to some high end plays very early on. Not many draft eligibles can boast this much of a positive environment. Thompson is huge at 6’5 and underweight, so he is a draft eligible who will undergo considerable physical development at the same time he’s supersaturating his skill development. It’s unclear if Thompson will see some dropoff from his current play, but what is not a question is choosing UCONN was a great developmental choice that will power up his draft projection.

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McAvoy Provides a Different Kind of Buzz

With the graduation of super collegian Jack Eichel to the Buffalo Sabres, the BU campus is hinging on it’s returning depth and 2016 freshman class to make sure it’s 2014-2015 puck power isn’t completely lost in 2015-2016. The #3 ranked group in the Preseason USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll received 6 first place votes as a result of returning 15/18 top scorers from last year.

Amongst an incoming crowd of first years that includes two 2nd round 2015 NHL Draft picks, a top USHL forward, and a top AJHL defender, is a 2016 NHL Draft eligible poised to bring humbled excitement to the Terrier’s blueline: Charlie McAvoy.

The Long Beach, NY native isn’t getting nearly the amount of praise a defender with his resume and experience usually does. In his pre-draft year, McAvoy put up 40 in 63GP for USDP U18. By comparison, Noah Hanifin [2015 #5] had 13 in 14GP, and Zach Werenski [2015 #8] had 1 in 4GP, meaning in their pre-draft years neither came close to touching the amount of ice McAvoy experienced. Two years prior to this draft year, McAvoy played against USHL’ers for a full slate while Hanifin played HS’ers and Werenski played HPHL U18’s. McAvoy is an advanced prospect and has a very good shot of atleast matching Zach Werenski’s draft position.

In this weekend’s exhibition game vs. Acadia, McAvoy played RD on the top pairing with SO Brandon Hickey. With an injury to Captain and top D, SR Matt Grzelcyk, and a scratched SO Brandon Fortunato, McAvoy was given a lot of rope and looked very comfortable stepping into a high-pressure role. His overall hockey athleticism is the first thing you notice, as all of his movements and reactions are quick and powered by smooth skating. Listed at 6’1’’ 211, he doesn’t have any concerns with size although he did lose his balance a few times. With a redesigned forward blueprint, McAvoy was a safety net of hands, vision, and maturity keeping plays alive in the offensive zone and moving the puck smartly in his own. The cherry on top during his impressive debut was his zone entry rush command [2x] where he did not look like a freshman at all. Even with the aforementioned D returning, McAvoy looks poised to keep a stranglehold on a top 4 roster spot throughout the year.

Because high IQ defenders carry misperceptions of their top ends, Charlie McAvoy is a wildcard offensively whose talent has been undersold and will spend the next few years flourishing his tools, and altering his perception considerably. For now, the hockey world shouldn’t dismiss New England’s next freshman draft eligible destined for the top 10 just because they lost last year’s.