Tatar finding success after coming up in true Red Wings style

Tatar finding success after coming up in true Red Wings style

Published Dec. 10, 2014 9:51 a.m. ET

Tomas Tatar could be the poster child for the Red Wings' style of bringing along NHL prospects.

The Red Wings are a club known for employing a "sit and stew" method when it comes to their prospect pool. With a few historical exceptions aside, the Red Wings generally stick to the approach that prospects can benefit from a few years cutting their teeth in the minors before getting the call up to the NHL.

Although the young forward showed promise early on, Tatar worked his way through the ranks of Detroit's minor league system before making his entry into the NHL. Tatar was assigned to Grand Rapids after being drafted by the Wings in 2009, and like so many before him, he settled in for the prerequisite two to three-year run with the Griffins.

He spent three seasons in Grand Rapids, and got his scoring climbing on a steady uptick. He played his first game in the NHL in December 2010, scoring a goal on the night of his debut. By the end of his third professional season in 2011-12, Tatar was the Griffin's leading scorer with 24 goals (58 points).


The following season, Tatar was called up for 18 games and managed 4 goals and 3 assists for the Red Wings. He returned to Grand Rapids in time to help the team to a Calder Cup win in 2013, the first in the franchise's history. Tatar exploded during the Cup's playoffs, scoring 16 goals and five assists in 24 games, and winning the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as playoff MVP.

By this point Tatar had passed all of the Red Wings' prospect tests with flying colors, and was offered a full-time job in the NHL. He opened the 2013-14 season as a member of the Red Wings, unaware of the contribution he and his young teammates would be called on to make during the injury-plagued season.

He finished that season with 39 points, and ranked second on the team with 19 goals.

Last season seemed to mark a turning point for Tatar, who began to improve little by little each period, each game, each season until fans began to take notice. He started appearing in daily headlines the day after games, credited with scoring multiple points, or scoring the game-winning goal.

Even a relatively slow start to the 2014-15 season didn't seem to rattle Tatar, which saw him entering November with a meager two points after 10 games.

"I told you guys, I wasn't worried about it at all," he said. "You won't lose it if you can't find the net once. I'm not afraid I'm not going to score goals. It's all about confidence, keep shooting the puck. It eventually will find the net."

It eventually did, and all at once. Tatar has found the back of the net with increasing frequency since entering November, scoring 15 points over the last 13 games, managing four multi-point outings and scoring two game-winners over the last month.

On Sunday, Tatar lit the lamp twice in the Red Wings' 3-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, adding another burst of excitement to the Datsyuk-Tatar-Helm line that continues to look more comfortable together with each game.

"I think we're playing well together right now," Tatar said of his line, adding that Datsyuk was the "best player he'd ever seen" and that he hoped the line could maintain its level of chemistry.

Tatar, who turned 24 earlier this month, could be heading for a career-high season that might even include 30 goals – statistical proof that the young right winger has officially made it. He currently tops the team in a three-way tie for goals (12), and ranks third on the team in points (20).

It took him a few years to get here, but Detroit has begun to view Tatar as a staple member of the Red Wings team. Maybe it's a tough-love relationship with Mike Babcock, who admits he's harder on the right winger than anybody else because he "has the chance to be a real player".

Or maybe it was those years simmering away in the AHL that taught Tatar to play like he belongs in the NHL.

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