The New Jersey Devils roster is pretty loaded. It’s the first training camp in a long time where New Jersey has come into September knowing what the roster is mostly going to look like by the beginning of the regular season. However, there are a few spots up for grabs. In the forward group, Tyce Thompson is making a strong case to start the 2023-24 season on the NHL roster.
Thompson’s brother, Tage, broke out for the Buffalo Sabres last season as one of the NHL’s young, rising stars. That wasn’t without some growing pains, however, as the St. Louis Blues gave up on him early in his career, flipping him to the Sabres in a deal for Ryan O’Reilly.
Tage’s breakout performance resonated well with his brother, Tyce. The 24-year-old forward uses his brother’s rising stardom as motivation for himself and his potential NHL future.
“I think (Tage is) a great example of (how) everyone has a different time period and a different path,” Thompson said. “I just try to work on myself and do what I could do to get better every day. Hopefully, it’s now but you know, just keep getting better every day.”
That mentality is certainly working out in Thompson’s favor this fall.
Last season with the Utica Comets, Thompson scored seven goals and 26 points in 56 American Hockey League games. From Thompson’s perspective, it was a bit of an underwhelming season for the former fourth-round draft pick. As a result, he spent this summer in Arizona with his brother and “a few Arizona Coyotes” training for the upcoming season.
“(Tage is) always trying to get better,” Tyce explained. “He probably pushes me more just in the fact that I’m trying to keep up with him. Just things like scoring competitions in practice or in the gym trying to (lift) more weight than him. I think it helps that he’s older than I am. I have to try to keep up with him. So I think it’s definitely beneficial for me.”
From the start of training camp, Thompson has been vocal about the fact that he made significant strides in his development. Specifically, Thompson believes himself as a faster and stronger player than last season. And although the roster is quite full of NHLers already, Thompson recognized how competitive this year’s training camp still is.
“It’s very competitive,” said Thompson. “Obviously, everyone’s trying to make the team. I think everyone’s pushing each other from within. So you know, a good culture that’s going on here and I think it’s just gonna make everyone better and the team better.”
As far as how he can separate himself from the rest to stand out positively, Thompson said, “I think just showing that I can also have a little bit of offensive touch out there too. Still, play that fourth-line role, but also if there’s an opportunity to make plays you know, do that.”
Well, Thompson has certainly done all of that thus far. The native of Calgary has been unafraid to be aggressive in all three zones. Part of the Devils’ strategy is to apply constant puck pressure, and Thompson certainly does that. He’s been an effective defender, and forechecker, and has shown that offensive flare he mentioned he wants to show.
In addition to playing a bottom-six forechecking role in three preseason games, Thompson scored a goal and an assist. During the Devils split-squad games last week, Thompson’s goal came at the top of the crease, cleaning up a loose puck under Cal Petersen. On Saturday, Thompson got on the scoresheet again, making up for a first-period tripping call. With the momentum of the game swinging the Flyers’ way, Thompson set up Curtis Lazar displaying great patience, feeding the nine-year veteran for an easy tap-in goal.
“Great play,” Lazar said. “He’s had an outstanding camp so far. He’s using his speed. Tyce’s got that skill too. I thought he was gonna shoot honestly, he waited for the last second there for it to open up perfectly. When you’re going in there with a skill player like that, just try and get open, stop by the net which I did and he found me.”
Continued: “He’s got good foot speed,” said Lazar. “He’s got that offensive touch. What I’ve been impressed with is his willingness to mix it up. He plays hard and plays strong. Tyce plays both ends of the ice. That’s the stuff that you need to do. He’s got a great attitude. We love seeing him around here having fun. Those types of guys, they’re energetic, but when you have that skill that he does, I guess it runs in the family. It’s pretty cool to see.”
If Thompson wants to make the roster, he’s going to have to prove himself outside of even strength as well. There’s not going to be a seat for Thompson on the power play, however, the penalty kill sure could use a strong forechecker with speed. Thompson fits the description and helped kill penalties with Lazar Saturday night. Head Coach Lindy Ruff was certainly pleased with Thompson’s game again this weekend.
“I thought (Thompson and Lazar) had a good night,” explained Ruff. “I thought our penalty killing was really good. (The Flyers) generated some good opportunities and they did a good job killing them. That was probably the highlight of the night when I looked at a lot of the areas of the game for us. (The Flyers) were better. They were better than us in a lot of areas but I thought our penalty killing was real good.”
The Devils didn’t make any cuts on Sunday, but when they do, it’s easy to see a situation in which Thompson is left off the list of reassigned players. Following in the footsteps of his brother Tage, Tyce is looking to prove that the NHL caliber runs in the family.
“I think my offseason was great,” Thompson said. “You know, I was out in Arizona. I feet like I got a lot stronger and faster. I think coming into this year, I know my role that I need to be on the team. Bring a lot of energy, play with pace, be physical, hard to play against, and be reliable.”