DETROIT — There’s a silver lining for the Detroit Red Wings despite their injury woes this season.
It’s created an opportunity for a few of the young prospects to come up from the minors and get valuable NHL experience.
Two of those players, forwards Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson, were having tremendous success in the American Hockey League before being called up.
The two did not have a chance to make the Wings at the start of the season because the lockout cut training camp short, but both were standouts with the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Tatar, with 19 goals and 20 assists in 44 games, was second on the team to Gustav Nyquist in scoring. Andersson was seventh, with 10 goals and 17 assists in 36 games.
Tatar, 22, was the Wings’ second-round pick (60th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Andersson, 24, was the Wings’ third-round pick (88th overall) in 2007.
The 5-foot-10 Tatar has three goals and three assists in 11 games since joining the Wings.
“Tatar’s got an NHL skill package,” Wings forward Daniel Cleary said. “He’s going to be a good player.”
Said another Wings forward, Drew Miller: “He’s playing well. He’s offensive, he plays with energy and he’s getting the goals. I think he’s making a name for himself right now and he’s learning along the way, too.”
Andersson, a 6-2 Swede, has three goals and two assists in nine games with the Wings.
“He’s a smart guy,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s 215 pounds, I think. I like smart and I like big guys.”
Andersson got his first NHL goal on Feb. 15, in a loss to the Anaheim Ducks. Scoring his next two goals in an 8-3 rout of the Vancouver Canucks was a lot more fun.
He appeared in five games with the Wings during last season’s rash of injuries, recording no points.
This year Andersson is feeling more at home at the NHL level.
“Of course I’m getting more comfortable for every game, and I try to do the same stuff that I’ve been doing in Grand Rapids,” Andersson said. “That’s what they want me to do, play the same way.”
Tatar also had a previous stint with the Wings, scoring one goal in nine games.
“I feel way better than I did last time when I was called up two years ago,” Tatar said. “I’m more experienced, and I’ve played way, way more games. So I feel pretty good out there.
“I think I skate pretty well out there. It’s just that I have to do the job that coach asks me for, and I have to do it 100 percent every game.”
Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg has been impressed with the way the two young players have contributed.
“I think every day they’re here, they learn more,” Zetterberg said. “And of course, it’s a little different coming up from playing in the AHL, so they’re learning and they’ve been doing a great job for us lately.”
Although smaller, Tatar is considered to be the player with the greater offensive upside. He’s expected to fit in among the top six forwards.
Even though he’s doing well, Babcock expects even more from him.
“He’s got to learn to take care of the puck,” Babcock said. “He’s got to learn how to play without it. But he has skills in those areas … He’ll become an important player for us.”
When the injured Wings forwards get healthy, Tatar and Andersson will likely return to the Griffins, where they will get plenty of playing time in all situations.
That will help prepare them for next season, when both will have to remain with the Wings or be put on waivers.
For now, they’re making the most of their time in Detroit.