For most it is no secret that the Detroit Red Wings have a very deep prospect pool. Between trading back in almost every draft for more picks and the genius that is Hakan Andersson the Red Wings are stocked to the brim with prospects who traditionally “over-ripen” in the minors or their native lands top leagues. Recently the system has produced NHL players like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Riley Sheahan. Over the next few season there will be an opening of the flood gates of prospects into Detroit and Grand Rapids as many players drafted in recent years, such as Zach Nastasiuk, Tyler Bertuzzi and Mitch Wheaton are going to run out of junior eligibility soon and this season Anthony Mantha and Andres Athanasiou join Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul in pushing for a roster spot in Detroit and top minutes in Grand Rapids.
This is inevitably going to create a problem, a good problem, for Ken Holland. As the prospect tournament is only a month away and training camp is scant days after. Still looking for a second pair defenseman Holland and the coaching staff are going to have to make the hard decisions to either promote, trade or eventually let his draft picks of years past walk out the door to make room for more recently drafted players, see Adam Almquist and Corey Emmerton. While still early in his career Marek Tvrdon is one such player who is going to have to make Ken Holland and Jeff Blashil very aware of his value if he wants to make the Grand Rapids squad let alone the big club in Detroit any time soon.
Per Capgeek.com Tvrdon was the 115th pick in 2011 after posting 31 goals 43 assists for 73 points in 60 games. Tvrdon stands at 6’2 and weighs in at a solid 210lbs. While he lacks his underrated two-way play Tvrdon projects to be as good of goal scorer as Johan Franzen, as he can score in droves and then go quiet for stretches. While not physical he is a big forward who has no problem going to the net for tip ins and garbage duty also possesses soft hands that make him an immediate scoring threat in every game he plays. That is where the problem lies however.
A brief analysis from RedWingsCentral.com (a fantastic site for Detroit Red Wings prospect analysis and information) provides an excellent summary for Tvrdon thus far in his early career.
“Injuries hampered Tvrdon’s development as a junior, missing 114 of 144 games from 2010-11 to 2012-13. Although he has power-forward size and impressive skills, his lack of intensity and consistency have prevented him from emerging as a top prospect. He’ll take another stab at the pros in 2014-15, where he needs to establish himself as an AHL regular in Grand Rapids.”
In the 2013 season while playing for the Vancouver Giants of the WHL Tvrdon was limited to 18 games as he was diagnosed with blood clots in his arm and legs. In those 18 games he registered 8 goals 14 assists putting him on pace to have a break out season or at the least continuing his production from his draft year. The diagnoses would keep him from playing until next season when he turned pro.
The Season of Recovery
While still recovering from the blood clots at the end of the WHL season Tvrdon joined the Grand Rapids Griffins in a limited role at practice during their Calder Cup run. The following season in 13-14′ Tvrdon suited up in training camp and one game with the Griffins. It did not get any better for him from there. He was cited by many sources at Traverse City as looking out of shape, which unfortunately will happen when you miss time like he did. After struggling in camp and notching 0 points in his lone appearance in the AHL Tvrdon was sent down to Toledo to dress with the Walleye. In Toledo, Marek continued to struggle to find his form posting 13 points and a +/- rating of -8 in 22 games before again being demoted, this time it was back to juniors and Vancouver. Shortly after being demoted he was traded from the Giants to the Kelowna Rockets. In 29 games with the Rockets Tvrdon seemed to regain some of his form posting 11 goals 16 assists for 27 points and + 8 rating playing alongside fellow Red Wings prospect Defenseman Mitch Wheaton.
As stated Tvrdon is going to get another swing at professional hockey playing for the Griffins in the 14-15′ season. While information is scarce about his off-season training one can only hope he has been hitting the gym and ice with fellow Slovakian countrymen and Tomas Trifecta Jurco, Tatar and Nosek(technically Nosek is Czech) because he is going to have to come out flying against his opponents at camp and in the regular season if he is going to earn top 6 ice time in Grand Rapids. Competition should be fierce as the Red Wings roster is loaded to capacity and likely not to be set until the last-minute possible. More so is that it is almost certain Marek at the training camp/prospect tournaments he will be competing against a veritable whose who of Red Wings prospects in Tomas Jurco, Andreas Athanasiou, Martin Frk, Tomas Nosek, Mitch Callahan and even Anthony Mantha for the high-end minutes.
At this point I do hope and believe that he can bounce back, however saying it will not be easy would be a massive understatement. Tvrdon’s knack for finding the back of the net and being able to use his size and speed make him an ideal second or third line forward. His in ability to stay healthy and Franzen like streakyness is concerning, add that with his reported lack of intensity could be his ultimate undoing, even if he stays healthy. Players like Mantha, Athanasiou and Jurco all possess skills and traits that set them apart from Tvrdon and are sure to be extremely hungry to prove themselves as NHL forwards or at least worthy of the precious few top 6 spots, and in the process they sure will not have any qualms about taking his spot. The fortunate news for him is that he has two years on this current contract before it expires giving him ample time to prove his worth. He is going to have to be a quick study and learn to use that big frame against the men of the AHL other wise he might be spending time in Toledo which would be the worst case scenario for him at this point in his career.