December 15 — Late to the Party & Tage Thompson’s Trajectory

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Last Night’s News 📰

SWISS MISS: After failing to agree to terms with the Ottawa Senators by Dec. 1 and, thus losing his eligibility to play in the NHL this season, restricted free agent forward Alex Formenton signed a one-year deal with Ambrì-Piotta of the Swiss League. Formenton, who recorded 18 goals and 32 points in 79 games last season, will be eligible to return to the NHL in time for the 2023-24 season.

STÜTZLE OUT: The Ottawa Senators announced that forward Tim Stützle will miss at least a week with a shoulder strain. He suffered the injury on Dec. 12 against the Anaheim Ducks, and the team will unquestionably miss his 27 points in 28 games this season. 

(PERRON) MY WAYWARD SON: On Tuesday, David Perron shared a special moment with his son Mason as the Detroit Red Wings honored the forward’s 1,000th NHL game. Mason donned his gear and dad’s No. 57 jersey as the two skated together as part of the national anthem and pre-game ceremony before Detroit’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes. 

DUCKS DON’T KNOW (REIN)DEER: Apart from flying, it doesn’t seem that ducks and reindeer have much in common—Anaheim Ducks, that is! Players from the southern California team attempted to name Santa’s reindeer in a recent social media video, with very little success. It’s safe to say Anaheim is on the naughty list!

Top Shelf Thursday – Top Late Bloomers

On Sunday, Lionel Messi looks to cap off a legendary soccer career by leading Argentina to World Cup glory at 35. Messi will play in his second career World Cup Final after coming up short against Germany in 2014, with the prospect of finally breaking through for a late-career championship resonating with several NHL stars. In honor of Messi, here are players who had to be patient but ultimately achieved their Stanley Cup dream (sorry, Ovechkin fans, but Mr. 800 doesn’t quite cut it here).

Ray Bourque

Ray Bourque (left) and Joe Sakic (right) raise the Stanley Cup. (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)

Alright, so there wasn’t going to be much mystery surrounding the first name on the list. Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque delivered an emotional Stanley Cup win, with fans across the league rooting for him. Traded to the Colorado Avalanche after a 21-year career with the Boston Bruins, even fans in Beantown were behind the popular Bourque as he finally lifted the Cup at age 40 in his 22nd NHL season. It would also be his last, going out on top as a champion.

Steve Yzerman

Steve Yzerman (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

Do you know Steve Yzerman, the three-time Stanley Cup champ and long-time Detroit Red Wings captain known as a proven winner? Well, it didn’t start that way for the Hall of Famer. Maligned for much of his career for not being able to translate big regular season numbers into postseason success, it wasn’t until year 14 at age 32 that Yzerman finally broke through. The 1997 Cup win opened the floodgates for a second consecutive trophy and another a few years later.

Johnny Bucyk

Johnny Bucyk receives the Stanley Cup (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

Winning hockey’s holy grail could even prove challenging during the Original Six era, as Boston Bruins Hall of Fame forward Johnny Bucyk learned the hard way. Bucyk’s Bruins suffered a heartbreaking Cup Final loss in his 1958 rookie year and didn’t return until 1969. Even still, it wasn’t until Bucyk’s 15th season in 1970—two days shy of his 35th birthday—that he finally laid claim to the Cup after a Final best remembered for Bobby Orr’s iconic winner.

Who’s Hot, Who’s Not

Below is a monthly check-in on the NHL players on a roll and ones hoping for their fortunes to change.

Who’s Hot: Alex DeBrincat

Although Alex DeBrincat got off to a slow start with the Ottawa Senators, he is now on a seven-game point streak with three goals and seven assists. Currently tied with Tim Stützle for second-best on the team in points with 27, DeBrincat’s run has helped the Senators to a 5-1-1 record in December. 

Who’s Not: Jesse Puljujärvi

After the Edmonton Oilers signed Jesse Puljujärvi to a one-year, $3 million extension over the summer, it seemed like a good gamble to take, considering he was coming off a career-best 36 points in 65 games. Now, he has six points in 30 games this season while on a 23-game goal drought and not having recorded a point in seven games. Puljujärvi recently commented on his tough stretch by stating, “If you play with Connor [McDavid], you have to score. Maybe I just don’t have it. Of course, I’d like to be a productive top-line player. But right now, it looks like I can’t do that in NHL. Maybe some other league.” Puljujärvi’s lack of confidence may force the Oilers to trade him for a fresh start, and the 24-year-old will have plenty of suitors. 

Who’s Hot: Jack Quinn

The Buffalo Sabres have had their fair share of struggles as they are in last place in the Atlantic Division, but one player that has been a bright spot this season has been 21-year-old rookie forward Jack Quinn. He has 15 points in his last 16 games, including six goals and 10 assists. He is currently fourth-best in the NHL for rookie scoring, with 17 points in 24 games this season. 

Who’s Not: Pius Suter

Pius Suter recorded a decent start to the season for the Detroit Red Wings with six points in his first 12 games, but now he has gone cold and has hit 12 straight games without making the scoresheet, having last recorded a goal or an assist on Nov. 17 against the San Jose Sharks. With the Red Wings experiencing injuries to Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi while sitting three points out of a playoff spot, they need depth contributions from players like Suter. And more than his eight points in 27 games. 

Real or Fake: Tage Thompson

This weekly segment looks at a notable, eye-opening trend in the league, be it an individual or team performance, and examines whether it’s real or if it’s more likely an aberration that should correct itself over time.

No, Tage Thompson isn’t just “that guy who scored five goals in a game.” The Buffalo Sabres star has arrived, following up a 38-goal campaign with 23 in 29 games to date to go along with 21 assists. Thompson’s 44 points are good enough to position him in that coveted No. 3 spot among NHL point-getters behind the Edmonton Oilers duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. As Buffalo poured in six third-period goals for a 6-0 shutout of the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night, it was hardly a surprise to see the 25-year-old in the middle of everything with two goals and an assist.

We knew Thompson was good, but third in league scoring?? That sounds like a question for “Real or Fake” to tackle!

Real: A December to Remember

We might be seeing a breakout into superstardom before our very eyes. Thompson’s lofty standing on the points list is due to these past six games in December, during which the native of Arizona (hockey’s new developmental hotbed?) has already produced four multi-point showings and now has nine goals and 15 points. Even if that’s not what every month brings from here on out, this could be a talented young player taking “the leap” into hockey’s upper echelon.

Fake: Inconsistency

But what if a torrid December (heck, they still have seven more games this month!) gives way to a tepid January? Thompson’s 2021-22 campaign included three months of eight goals or more but also featured three two-goal months. That all added up to some pretty impressive numbers, but his current No. 3 slot will be a far cry from his 54th-place finish in points (he was 19th in goals) a year ago.

Real: The Dahlin Factor

In hockey, you can only go so far without the support of similarly gifted teammates who can keep up with your abilities. Wayne Gretzky had Mark Messier (plus a loaded Edmonton Oilers team), Mario Lemieux had Jaromír Jágr, and McDavid has Draisaitl. In Thompson’s case, Alex Tuch and Casey Mittelstadt are great linemates, but the true advantage comes from blue-line phenom Rasmus Dahlin. Sure enough, the 22-year-old currently ranks among the league’s top-five defensemen with 24 assists.

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