Tatar developing into star for Red Wings

In Saturday night's 5-2 victory over the ridiculously hot Nashville Predators, Tomas Tatar scored twice.

Jose Juarez

DETROIT — You know there’s something special about a player who can come over from Slovakia and earn a spot with an AHL team.

That’s what Tomas Tatar did at 19.

In the 2009-10 season, the Red Wings expected Tatar, whom they selected in the second round (60th overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, to probably play in the Ontario Hockey League with the Plymouth Whalers.

Instead, Tatar made the Grand Rapids Griffins and proceeded to score 16 goals and 16 assists in 58 games with the Griffins that season — all while trying to perfect his English.

In 2010-11, Tatar made his NHL debut, playing in nine games with the Wings, scoring one goal.

In 2012-13, Tatar played in 18 games, scoring four goals and three assists.

Last season, Tatar spent the entire year with the Wings, scoring 19 goals and 20 assists in 73 games.

In Saturday night’s 5-2 victory over the ridiculously hot Nashville Predators, Tatar scored twice, at even strength in the first period and on the power play late in the second.

Tatar, 24, became the first Wing to reach 20 goals this season, reaching 20 goals for his first time in the NHL.

"I don’t know, I never really thought about it," Tatar said. "Obviously it’s a nice accomplishment. Hopefully keep shooting and keep scoring."

Tatar only needs four goals to reach the mark he set twice with the Griffins.

"It’s great for him," goaltender Petr Mrazek said. "It’s not over yet so I hope he going to get another 20. That would be great."

Stephen Weiss, who has scored 20 goals or more four times in his NHL career, is impressed with his young teammate and thinks 30 or even 40 goals is possible.

"He’s a very dangerous scorer," Weiss said. "He’s got a real good shot and he’s got a lot of energy. He’s a fun guy to be around, a fun guy to be around in practice. He practices hard and he works at it. He’s turned into quite the star."

With Gustav Nyquist, 25, already at 17 goals himself, including the first one Saturday, the Wings have an impressive young duo.

"They’re good players," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "They just got to turn into good pros now. They got to learn to work every single day and do it right all the time. If they do that and they stay hungry and they’re really driven, they become really good players."

Tatar started the season slowly on offense, scoring just one goal in his first nine games. Yet he never lost confidence that the offense would come around.

Since then, Tatar has 19 goals and 12 assists in his last 36.

His power-play goal Saturday came when he batted Riley Sheahan’s pass out of mid-air past Marek Mazanec, who replaced Carter Hutton after Hutton allowed three goals on four shots.

"It was just a reaction," Tatar said. "I cut to the middle and I saw puck coming in the air, just knock it in. It was more luck than anything else. I was just happy the puck went in."

The puck seems to go in a lot when Tatar is around. 

"He’s smart player, a great offensive player and he knows where to be and he has a great shot," Mrazek said.

Tatar won the Calder Cup MVP trophy in 2012-13 when he scored 16 goals and five assists in 24 games, leading the Griffins to victory.

That, and this season, and just the beginning.

"Him and Gus, sky’s the limit with those two," Weiss said. "Really smart, young players and have been able to develop in Grand Rapids and win a championship there. I think that was just huge for them. Their confidence was sky-high last year when they came in and seem to be carrying it on again this year. 

"But I think once you start doing things like that you get a little bit more of a target on your back and they’ll be dealing with extra attention from teams and defensemen, but they’ll be fine."

If other teams do start putting their better defensive players out on the ice against Tatar and Nyquist, and the quickly developing Sheahan, that will just let Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk take advantage.

For now, Tatar is just pleased with how things are going for the team.

"I’m not really thinking about it right now (reaching 20 goals) but obviously I’m happy I did it and hopefully I’ll keep scoring and help the team pick up wins," Tatar said. 

"Right now I don’t realize it. I took it as just another game and we won and that’s the big thing right now."