03/02/2011 2:00 PM
March 2, 2011
Unlike last season, Tomas Tatar is showing no signs of wearing down.
The 20-year-old winger, in his second American Hockey League campaign, continues to be one of the top performers with the Grand Rapids Griffins, with five goals and four assists in his past seven games. Not only that, he has 33 points in his past 31 games and is 32nd in the league scoring race.
Last season, the Slovakian's first in North America, a 19-year-old Tatar had a hot start (21 points in 27 games) but slowed after going to the IIHF world junior championship (just 11 points in his final 31 games).
His improved second-half play is a big step forward in Tatar's development, along with his solid showing in a nine-game stint with the Detroit Red Wings in January. The 5-foot-10 179-pounder could be ready for NHL duty this fall, depending on how many roster openings the Red Wings have.
With the futures of Mike Modano and Kris Draper up in the air, Tatar could easily slide into one of the open forward spots along with speedy winger Jan Mursak, who just signed a two-year, one-way contract extension.
Tatar would join Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader as players who have recently broken into the NHL after just two AHL seasons. But Tatar will only be 20 in the fall, while Helm (22) and Abdelkader (23) were older when they made their jumps. That may cause the Red Wings to error on the side of caution with Tatar and shuttle him between the NHL and the AHL in 2011-12.
Either way, Tatar is easily the Red Wings' best forward prospect and is giving Brendan Smith a run for his money as top prospect overall. With his combination of skill and spunk — the Red Wings liken him to a more dynamic Jiri Hudler — he projects as a quality top-six winger down the road.
NOTES: Forward Louis-Marc Aubry (Montreal, QMJHL) has returned from injury, just in time for the playoffs ... Defenseman Logan Pyett (Grand Rapids, AHL) became the first Griffins blueliner to score a hat trick last week and he potted all three in one period. Pyett needs to make the Red Wings next season or be exposed to waivers ... Forward Gustav Nyquist (Maine, NCAA) may be well off his 61-point sophomore pace, but the talented Swede is still third in Hockey East scoring this season and the slight drop-off is no cause for concern.
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