DETROIT – It wasn’t what Tomas Tatar was hoping to achieve.
The Red Wings’ forward had far higher expectations for this third NHL season, especially since he was coming off such a successful second full campaign in Detroit the previous year.
“Obviously could be better,” Tatar said last week. “My goals were way higher than they end up but it was different stuff this year than it was last year. It was different position for me, so I guess what the numbers are saying is the way it is now.”
Any other year 21 goals and 24 assists isn’t terrible production. But it was for Tatar, who produced career-highs for goals (29), assists (27) and points (56) in 2014-15.
Tatar said he felt pressure to increase his offensive role, knowing that he and Gustav Nyquist would be counted on to pick up some of the secondary scoring for aging stars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
But it was difficult to reach those goals with less ice time.
“I don’t mind to be in that position. I felt (the) year before I was there,” said Tatar, who saw his average ice time drop from 16:13 minutes per game to 14:21.
“We can’t leave everything on Pav and Hank, those guys need help,” Tatar added. “I think last season me and Nykie stepped up and helped them. This season it was a little different for me. It was a little tougher.”
Though his numbers declined a bit Tatar is second on the team in accumulative goals over the past three seasons. His 69 goals scored since the start of 2013-14 trail only Nyquist, who potted 72 in the same timeframe.
Despite finishing second on the team in goals and third in points this season, some things took some time getting used to for the 25-year-old Slovakian. Last season, Tatar found chemistry on the second line with Datsyuk and Darren Helm. But first-year head coach Jeff Blashill had other ideas for Tatar, moving the forward between the second, third and fourth lines.
“I think the position was way different this year than last year,” Tatar said. “After last season, playing most of the time with Pav and Helmer, this time I was kind of around the lines. With different position comes different responsibility. Wherever I played I tried to play (my) best, bring the energy as much as I could.”
During the first-round playoff series against Tampa Bay, Tatar started three of the five games with six different linemates, an issue, he said, was prevalent during the regular season too.
“It was a little tougher to get comfortable, I was squeezing the stick almost all season,” said Tatar, who had a team-high three points in the series with the Lightning. “The goals I set were hard to end up so it was kind of disappointing for me.”
Tatar finished the playoffs with a rotator cuff injury, which likely won’t require surgery, but didn’t keep him from competing in this month’s World Championships in Russia.
“It kind of came from regular season and went all the way to playoffs,” Tatar said of the injured shoulder.
Scoring wasn’t just a problem for Tatar and Nyquist. The entire team struggled to finish with an abysmal 209 goals in the regular season – the franchise’s lowest in a non-lockout shortened year since 1976-77.
Every Wings’ player – with the exception of Luke Glendening and Brendan Smith, who were in the lineup consistently – took a step backwards in terms of point production from the previous season.
To get the ship back on course, the Wings need young players like Tatar, Nyquist, Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha to step up and earn more minutes through their offensive productivity.
During his final news conference of the season, Blashill was asked to predict which player will rise to the occasion next season.
“Who is that going to be? I can’t answer that,” he said. “You certainly have your group of young forwards, whether it’s Tats, whether it’s Nykie, whether it’s Larkin. You got young guys that have come up, Double A and Mantha and some guys that are in the minors. But ultimately for us to be better come the fall we’re going to need guys to take that step to elite players. And it’s not going to be 10 (players). It’s going to be one or two and help in that transition from Pav and Z.”