TRAVERSE CITY, Mich.
-- Just when you thought those draft-day wizards in Detroit were due to hit a dry spell, in skates Slovak center Tomas Tatar
If you haven't yet heard of the international prodigy, don't worry, it's only a matter of time.
Tatar, taken in the second round (No. 60) in the 2009 Entry Draft, is picking up where he left off at the World Junior Championships earlier this year. He leads the Red Wings with 3 goals and 5 points through three games of the Prospects Tournament here at Center I.C.E. Arena while sporting a plus-3 rating.
Though he's just 5-foot-11 and 176 pounds, Tatar offers a relentless motor and can think the game as well as any 18-year-old European prospect. That's why there's a good chance he might even represent his country on the Slovak National Team -- and skate alongside his childhood hero, Marian Hossa.
"Boy, has this kid come in here and made an immediate impact," said Curt Fraser, coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins, Detroit's AHL farm team. "He's quick, he does a great job hanging onto the puck and he creates a lot of offense. He knows where to put the puck and where to go. He seems to fit right in with everything right now."
Tatar played for HKM Zvolen in the elite Extraliga to open the 2008-09 season, posting 7 goals, 15 points and a plus-6 rating in 48 games. At the world juniors in Ottawa, he scored 7 goals and 11 points in seven games to help lead Slovakia to a fourth-place finish. His performance also caught the eye of Detroit's scouting fraternity.
"In a perfect world, you would wish he was 6-foot-3, but he's good enough anyway," Red Wings Director of European Scouting Hakan Andersson told NHL.com. "We feel he could be a scorer even at the higher levels. He's played very well in the Traverse City tournament."
Boy, has this kid come in here and made an immediate impact. He's quick, he does a great job hanging onto the puck and he creates a lot of offense. He knows where to put the puck and where to go. He seems to fit right in with everything right now. - Grand Rapids coach Curt Fraser
Tatar, who was named Slovakia's top forward at World Juniors, is credited with having that sixth sense in the offensive zone -- he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. That's what was so attractive to Red Wings coach Mike Babcock.
"I think he looks like a good young player with good instincts," Babcock told NHL.com. "(Wings Vice President/Assistant General Manager) Jimmy Nill and his group like to draft hockey sense, and I like coaching guys with high hockey IQ because you can teach them the game and they can make the game faster because they know where to go. Tomas may not be the biggest guy or the fastest guy, and he doesn't have the hardest shot. But, he has hockey sense, and I like that."
Tatar, who has a tattoo on his right forearm that reads "Go For Gold" in honor of cyclist Lance Armstrong, has the ability to beat an opposing defenseman one-on-one. The Wings actually projected that he'd be gone by the middle of the first round during last June's draft, so the fact they were able to grab him in the second certainly bodes well for the depth chart.
"Everybody liked him, especially in the second half of that tournament and we followed up on that," Andersson said. "He's a scorer, so, personally, I'd like to see him in juniors next season. It would do him well to play in a league where he can dominate and be that go-to guy, score a lot of goals, get a lot of points and power-play time. I think that would be better for him. But don't get me wrong: He's also good enough to play in the American League."
In June, Tatar was selected sixth overall in the Canadian Hockey League import draft by the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League but was later traded to Plymouth. He has stated he wouldn't mind playing for the junior team if his Slovak team in Zvolen releases him from his contract. Of course, if he wows the coaching staff during the Wings' main camp this weekend, who knows.
"Hockey here is different hockey style than in Europe," Tatar offered. "It's more speed and physical game, and I want to show coaches how I am a sniper. I must learn how to play NHL style -- the Slovak league is good and very smart but not as fast and not as physical."
Tatar's parents and older brothers, Marek and Tibor, who play professionally in Europe, were major influences on his career growing up in Ilava, Slovakia.
"I'll tell you right now, he's very close to being a very good hockey player in Grand Rapids," Fraser said. "I don't know what's going to shake out of here after training camp, but if he keeps going the way he's going right now, he'll force the hand of a lot of people here."
Nill was in Ottawa to witness Tatar's breakout performance at World Juniors.
"He's got the head and the hands," Nill said. "He just knows how to handle the puck and has those instincts. There's no question that World Juniors was his coming out party. He was the second leading goal-scorer as a young kid and that's hard to do. He played great against the United States and was awesome against Canada."