When it came to exciting additions to the Red Wings attack in 2013, Damien Brunner got most of the early hype, while Gustav Nyquist was the name on everyone’s lips come playoff time. And rightfully so. Yet there was a stretch of games in-between where it looked like Tomas Tatar might be the young player who would break out in 2013. It didn’t quite turn out that way, but he showed enough flashes to suggest that his future should be a bright one.
Looking Back at Tomas Tatar’s 2013:
Thanks to a barrage of injuries to Detroit forwards in the first few weeks of the season, it didn’t take long for Tatar to be summoned from Grand Rapids. He got the call up alongside goalie Petr Mrazek on February 4 and went right into the lineup the next night at home against the Calgary Flames.
Tatar picked up his first NHL point of 2013 with an assist against the St. Louis Blues on February 7, but it took him a few more games to showcase the flair fans anticipated from him. That finally came on February 13 when he scored a beautiful backhand goal after some nifty stickhandling against the Blues, and he added a power play goal the following game against the Anaheim Ducks.
Though he was a regular for the next 12 games, Tatar managed just three more points. His ice time began to dip ever so slightly as the season moved into March, and he found himself back in Grand Rapids by the middle of the month.
That turned out not to be a bad thing, as Tatar helped propel the Griffins to the Calder Cup final (at the time of this post, just a game away from winning it all). If you’re reading this in July, there’s a decent chance Tatar has already captured himself a Butterfield Trophy for his postseason goal-scoring exploits.
Looking Ahead to 2013-14:
There isn’t much left for Tatar to prove at the AHL level, but does that mean he’s certain to be in Detroit on opening night this fall? Not necessarily.
The Red Wings currently have only 12 forwards under contract for next season, including Tatar, which would seem to bode well for him. But that doesn’t include Joakim Andersson or Nyquist, both of whom are restricted free agents and locks to be back.
It also doesn’t count unrestricted free agents Dan Cleary, Valtteri Filppula and Brunner. It would be a shock if Detroit didn’t retain at least one from that group, which puts the team at 15 forwards or more, assuming my math is correct.
Things could still break Tatar’s way though. If Mikael Samuelsson is bought out, Todd Bertuzzi retires and Darren Helm isn’t healthy (all possibilities if not likelihoods), he’d be in the lineup for Game 1. At worst, he’ll go back to netting goals for the Griffins and be the first player called up once injuries rear their ugly heads again.
Wings management has shown it can be very patient with promising young players, and its handling of Tatar has been no exception. The trick is figuring out just the right time to allow those prospects to have the chance to stick, and for Tatar, that should be any minute now.