With the NHL lockout still going on, it is time to delve into the minor league system. Despite the pros not playing, there is still great hockey being played. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, the Griffins play as the Red Wings' top minor league team.
Tomas Tatar is a Red Wing in waiting. In fact, his play in the minors may have him pushing for a roster spot as soon as the lockout ends. The team is already heavy with forwards, but it will need to make room for him. He did get one call-up with the Wings during the 2010-11 season when he played nine games.
One knock against Tatar has been his size. He is 5’10", 182 lbs. In a sport full of big strong players, some have wondered if Tatar can play at that level. He has proved that it is not an issue, as he uses his smaller size to his advantage.
He is second on the team in points and first in goals. He ranks in the top 10 in the AHL in both categories as well. He has 10 goals and 18 points in only 17 games. He is doing this after leading the team last year with 23 goals and 58 points over 76 games, which shows consistency.
Beyond his size, the other knock when he was drafted was his defense. He has greatly improved in that area and is now a regular on the penalty kill. He was already a quick skater with above-average speed, but he continues to work on that. He also has great hands and works hard end to end.
He is the type of all-around hustle player that the team can use. He is not afraid to battle along the boards and can make teams pay with his quickness and solid shot.
We will likely see some roster shakeups in the aftermath of the lockout. Ideally, there will be room for Tatar. Although some believe he can be a top-two line player, I would like to see him paired with Darren Helm and Gustav Nyquist as a high energy, pesky line.
Hopefully, the lockout ends soon so that we can see what Tatar and other young players can do.
PJ Sapienza is a featured columnist covering the Detroit Red Wings as well as many other sports.
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