By Dave Waddell -
Of the many storylines in a Detroit Red Wings’ training camp that has many actors and not enough roles, no one will be more center stage than winger Tomas Tatar.
Tatar is coming off a superb year in Grand Rapids where he led the Griffins to their first AHL championship. He was named playoff MVP and impressed when he was called up by the Wings last winter.
He’s also out of minor-league options.
He’s either in Detroit, has to go through waivers where he’s certain to be claimed or traded.
For Tatar, his future in Detroit will be determined between now and the opening day of the season.
“I’ve been in a battle every camp since I got here, so this is nothing new for me,” said Tatar, who had 16 goals and 21 points in AHL 24 playoffs games last season.
“I think I’m in a good position. I played four years down there.
“I know what I have to do to make the team. I just try to play my best, put myself in the best position at the start of the season.
“We’ll see what I can do during the camp and I will work hard for that.”
Tatar’s job got a little tougher when the Wings re-signed Daniel Cleary, who seemed on his way out of town. With the Wings having three extra forwards and being a couple million dollars over the salary cap, something is going to have to give by Detroit’s season opener Oct. 2.
“It’s hard to pretend the forwards are not here,” said Tatar, who had 23 goals and 49 points in 61 games during the AHL regular season. “I know there are lots of players here and everybody is battling for a good spot.
“It’s a little frustrating, but good teams can choose the players they want to fit into the lineup. I’m going to do my best to fit there and I think I’m in a good position to do it.”
While many observers wonder if the bringing back Cleary signals the race is over before it has even begun for the youngsters in camp, what the Wings are doing is no different than the way they’ve operated for the past two decades.
“I guess you could say that if you want to say it,” Wings’ coach Mike Babcock said of whether having so many forwards in camp was a unique situation.
“The other thing you can say is the best players are going to play. That’s what we’ve done every year since I’ve been here.
“We’re going to do the same thing.”
The cruel reality is the 22-year-old Tatar is acknowledged as being NHL ready, but he not only has to be that, but better than the NHLers already in Detroit.
“No question,” Babcock responded when asked if Tatar was NHL ready.
“You got to play. They don’t give you the jobs, you got to earn them.
“This here (camp) isn’t where you do that. Exhibition is where you do that.
“We got enough exhibition games that I’ll make sure everyone gets an opportunity.
“I’m just going to watch and they got to do what they do and they got to play real well. We got too many forwards and we got to figure it out.
“These things have a way of working themselves out. We got three weeks to do it.”
Tatar understands his situation, yet seems unphased by the task ahead.
“I would expect to be traded if I won’t make the team,” said Tatar, who was a second-round pick (60th overall) by Detroit in the 2009 NHL Draft. “You never know, it’s a business.
“If it happened it happened. If I’m going to make the team, I’m going to put my heart in and play for this team.”
However, it will be awfully difficult for the Wings to walk away from Tatar’s speed and skill. He’s tenacious for his size (five-foot-11) and has shown he’s not afraid to play in the dirty areas of the ice along the boards and in front of the net.
“It’s an important preseason for a guy like Tats because there’s a lot of depth,” Red Wings’ GM Ken Holland said to Mlive.com. “We got decisions to make, but he’ll probably be one of the guys that’s one of the 14 left standing because he’s young, there’s upside potential.
In his 18 appearances for the Wings last year, Tatar had four goals, seven points and was a plus-two.
Tatar said the benefit of serving his four-year apprenticeship in Grand Rapids is having the perspective of undertaking what it takes to play in the NHL. Success at the AHL level has bred a confident player ready to seize the opportunity being presented to him in Detroit.
“Yeah, to be honest I expect to be here,” Tatar said. “I’m going to do my best to be here, but it’s a business. You never know, they might get some offer and have to accept it.
“I love it here. In my heart, I want to stay here because this is the team that drafted me.
“They had the patience to develop me on the farm team, so might as well repay that.”