When Tyce Thompson woke up on Sunday morning, he did so to a phone call from Dan MacKinnon, the assistant general manager of the New Jersey Devils, informing him he’d been traded.
The trade was a complete surprise for the 24-year-old forward. But when he learned he was joining the New York Islanders organization, surprise quickly turned into excitement.
“I didn’t see it coming, but after it set in, I was pretty excited for many reasons,” Thompson told Hockey Now. “It’s a fresh opportunity to prove myself.”
The trade brings Thompson home. The son of former Bridgeport Islanders head coach Brent Thompson, Tyce is as familiar as anybody with the Islanders’ AHL affiliate.
“I grew up here and lived here for many years when my dad was the coach,” Tyce said. “Having that familiarity, it definitely helps going into an organization where you’re comfortable. It makes the transition a lot smoother.”
Brent left Bridgeport this offseason after 1o years of service in the Islanders organization to join the Anaheim Ducks as an assistant coach. Even though he may not have his father there, Tyce still has a prior relationship with his new head coach. Rick Kowalsky was once an assistant coach in New Jersey and was there for Tyce’s first year in the league.
“He’s got what I call hard skill,” Kowalsky told Hockey Now. “He’s willing to go to the hard areas, finish checks and be hard in the corners. But yet, he can make those high-level skill plays and is going to slide right in on the power play. Certainly, he gives another offensive threat and another guy who can help us score some goals.”
“I know he’s going to work hard. I think he’s just a guy who’s maybe not been put in the best situations to succeed. He’s going to get that opportunity here.”
Taken 96th overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft by the Devils, Tyce made his NHL debut for the team the following year. However, with the Devils being one of the deepest organizations in the league, Tyce seemed to get lost in the mix, playing in just 11 games at the NHL level over three seasons.
Arnaud Durandeau was sent back to the Devils in exchange for Tyce and had a similar experience during his seven years with the Islanders. Eventually, it became clear there was no longer a path forward for either player in their current spots.
“Sometimes, when you make a deal like this, it’s a hockey trade,” Kowalsky said. “You got to give up something to get something. I think in both cases, with both players’ situations, a change of scenery might be the best fit. That’s really what it came down to.”
Although he’s encountered roadblocks early in his career, Tyce has chosen to face them head-on with his brother, Tage of the Buffalo Sabres, serving as a reminder of what enduring adversity can bring.
“After six years, for him to finally break through and be an elite scorer in the NHL is very admirable,” Tyce said. “I can use that and learn to stick with it by going to the rink every day and trusting the process.”
With the standards set by his brother and father, Tyce is poised with a new chance to create his own name at home in Bridgeport, knowing fully well he has to make it happen himself.
“I think no matter where you go, whatever opportunity you get, you just have to make the most of it,” Tyce said. “It’s up to me to perform and do my job.”