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Griffins coach Curt Fraser says 18-year-old Tomas Tatar among top players on ice

By Michael Zuidema | The Grand Rapids Press

October 22, 2009, 8:00AM

GRAND RAPIDS -- As the youngest player skating in the American Hockey League, Tomas Tatar long ago grew accustomed to a little ribbing about his age.

That's what happens when you throw an 18-year-old into the mix with a bunch veterans.

"Guys give me some laughs and smiles, but it's good for me," Tatar said. "It's fun in the locker room."

The rookie left wing earned his first career point in the Grand Rapids Griffins' 7-2 loss to the San Antonio Rampage on Sunday night. Tatar had an assist on Andy Delmore's second-period goal.

He also took two shots and finished with a plus-1 rating.

Immigration and visa paperwork prevented Tatar from making his Griffins debut earlier this season, but once the Slovakia native got into the lineup, coach Curt Fraser said it looked like he belonged.

"He was one of our top players on the ice. Is he a boy amongst men? No," Fraser said. "I think this kid's young, he's got big-time talent, big-time skills and he plays hard. That's what we need."

Tatar (5-foot-10, 179 pounds) acknowledged he was a little nervous before his debut, but said he hasn't had any issues with making the adjustment from Europe to North America.

"I think North America is great hockey," Tatar said. "It's a big difference from Slovakia, where I don't have to play physical and with speed. I like this game.

"I don't have a problem. My size is not bigger, but I like the game in the corners. I like skill because it's good for me."

The Detroit Red Wings selected Tatar with the 60th overall pick in this summer's NHL draft. The organization likely would have sent him to Plymouth of the Ontario Hockey League to start the season, but a strong training camp earned Tatar a spot in Grand Rapids.

Fraser said Tatar will play this weekend during the Griffins' three-game homestand, but there's still a chance he could be assigned to Plymouth.

"I wouldn't want to speculate either way right now, but obviously, for his development, you want to see him have success," Fraser said. "I don't want to see him sitting out a game, playing a game all year long. I don't think that's going to do him any good.

"But the way he's going right now, I think he's more than capable of earning a spot in the lineup and staying there and developing his game."

For his part, Tatar hopes to remain with Grand Rapids. But he also knows he'll have to earn his spot.

"I think it's better for me to stay here," he said. "This league is probably a little bit faster and harder, but I like this game. I want to stay here."

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Lives in Dubnica, Slovakia…Greatest hockey memory is representing Slovakia at the World Junior Championship in 2009…Hockey idols as a youth were Pavel Bure and Steve Yzerman…Plans to be a businessman after his playing career…Most exciting places he’s visited are Italy and Turkey…Also speaks Czech and Slovakian…Played tennis growing up…Favorite foods are steak and pizza…Favorite movie is American Pie…Favorite TV shows are Family Guy, The Simpsons and Futurama…Favorite web sites are facebook.com and hokejportal.sk…Favorite sport to watch besides hockey is tennis…Enjoys ping-pong, dancing and going to the gym.

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No tough transition for Tatar

December 13, 2009

by Randy Rice

It is expected that young European rookies will have a learning curve while adjusting to the American Hockey League. Add in the off-ice culture shock and a slight language barrier, on top of being the youngest player in the league, and it could make for an even tougher time getting acclimated to new surroundings.

But for 19-year-old Grand Rapids Griffins left wing Tomas Tatar, it took nothing more than getting his immigration finalized and moving into an apartment before his nascent North American career began to blossom.

Tatar, a native of Ilava, Slovakia, was sidelined the first four games of the season while his immigration paperwork was being finalized, but he began contributing as soon as he put on a Griffins jersey. He earned an assist during his AHL debut on Oct. 18 at San Antonio – at the tender age of just 18 years, 10 months and 17 days – then netted his first goal just three appearances later on Oct. 29.

Tatar’s time with the Griffins began as a trial run, with the Ontario Hockey League serving as Plan B. But by the conclusion of Red Wings training camp in September, Detroit’s second choice (60th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft had not only convinced the Wings’ brass to sign him to a three-year entry-level contract, but also to place him with their primary affiliate in Grand Rapids.

Recognizing his flashy scoring punch and untamable skill, Detroit felt he might be ready to develop his ability among the men in the AHL. Because of this, Tatar became the first Red Wings draft pick during the teams’ eight-year affiliation to start a season with the Griffins in his draft year.

“Tomas really stood out in both the prospects camp and main camp in Traverse City,†said Griffins head coach Curt Fraser. “We were going to give him two or three weeks to see how he would fit in with the competition at this level, and see if it would be more beneficial for him to go back to junior or if he could stay here. And ever since he has been in the lineup, he has earned the right to be here with us.â€

As such, Tatar’s trial run with Grand Rapids has turned into a permanent gig. Although he recorded just two points (1-1-2) in his first eight games, the 5-foot-10, 179-pound forward quickly proved he could score at this level, rattling off 11 points (5-6-11) over a 10-game span from Nov. 13-Dec. 5. During that stretch, he notched both four-game goal and five-game point streaks (4-5-9) to lock up the Griffins’ consecutive nominations for the Reebok/AHL player of the week award (Nov. 23 and 30).

In addition to the scoring punch he has provided, Tatar’s solid two-way style tied him for the team lead with a plus-11 rating as of Dec. 9, a rating that also tied for third among AHL rookies.

For the young European, the scoring came easier once he was relieved of the off-ice stresses that come along with living in completely new surroundings. “When I came here, everything was new for me and I did not have anything. There was a lot of waiting for everything to get settled,†said Tatar. “Now, I am finished and I have a car and an apartment, so I am ready to just worry about hockey.â€

Although he has solidified his spot with the Griffins this season, Tatar will be leaving the team from mid-December to early January to play with Team Slovakia at the World Junior Championship in Saskatchewan, marking the second straight year he has earned the privilege to represent his country at the tournament. Proud to represent his native land, Tatar is looking forward to the tournament without the pressure he faced last year.

“This year will be a little different for me, since last year I was fighting to be drafted and for a contract,†said Tatar, who helped Slovakia to a fourth-place finish last year by leading his team with 11 points and finishing second in the tournament with seven goals. “Now that I have been drafted and have a contract, I am just going to and try to help my team have a good finish in the tournament.â€

The world juniors will be a familiar environment for Tatar, but adjusting to his new environment in West Michigan is something he has embraced despite his young age. In his mind, his age has not been an obstacle to overcome, despite playing against players who in most cases are at least several years older.

“I do not have any problems being the youngest player,†said Tatar. “Each year I have taken the next step up, since two years ago I was playing in Slovak junior, then last year on the men’s team, now here. Every year I have been able to move up a level to be around stronger players, so I think it is normal.â€

Developing players within their own system has always been preached by the parent Red Wings. So far, all early indicators show that Tatar is willing to do exactly what Detroit wants, with no sign of homesickness.

“I am happy here and want to stay,†Tatar said. “It is a much different living style from in Europe, but I like this country and feel I am good here. It helps me to work harder for Detroit to one day play there.â€

Of course, Tatar has the guidance of many AHL veterans in the Griffins’ locker room, including Patrick Rissmiller, who has played alongside Tatar since he arrived on loan from the New York Rangers six games into the campaign.

Through 19 games as linemates, Tatar and Rissmiller had combined for 26 points (11-15-26). Players such as Jan Mursak and Jeremy Williams have also flourished when they’ve joined the dynamic duo.

“We have been really fortunate that the chemistry clicked right away when coach put us together,†said Rissmiller. “Tatar has had a great attitude considering all the circumstances with the language barrier and being so young over here. He is really willing to learn both on and off the ice, and when a player has that kind of attitude it makes the learning curve even quicker.â€

Also helping to shorten the curve is fitting in with both the team and the new living situation, something coach Fraser can relate to from coaching two seasons in Belarus from 2006-08.

“That’s just it. It is fitting in off the ice with everything, from finding an apartment, learning the language and everything else that goes along with it. Then you have to find a way to fit in with your teammates, which are all huge challenges for any kid coming over from Europe,†said Fraser. “The on-ice stuff is easy once everything else falls into place, and Tatar has done a really good job of dealing with all of that and has impressed a lot of people early on this year.â€

Age may be but a number to Tatar, but only time will tell how far this precocious Slovak may one day rise.

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From their first prospects tournament game 9/11 in which the Wings won 6 to 1.


Then there’s Tomas Tatar, ever the character, from his white Reebok 11K skates with his Griffins number, 27, on them to the four-roll, 14-inch gloves with their cuffs cut off because he doesn’t like them binding his wrists. The funny thing about the kid who has “GO FOR THE GOLD” tattooed on his right forearm, in English, is that the 5’10” waterbug’s no longer a waterbug. He’s put on a good ten pounds and, like Andersson, probably actually weighs his listed 179 pounds, with ridiculously ripped Gordie Howe-style drooping shoulders, heavy thighs and core strength galore, and he’s accentuated superb, speedy and sometimes sneaky skating speed and manuverability, his wicked quick and tricky shot, nose for the net and Callahan level of enthusiasm and panache with endurance and stamina. Tatar’s much more serious than the easygoing Callahan, but he also absolutely loves to play hockey and loves the fact that he can and may very well play so strongly as a happy Grand Rapids Griffin that he could very well play a game or two for the Red Wings this year, and maybe even more games the year after that, and, eventually, should he work hard enough and be patient and persistent, eventually play for his favorite team.

I asked Tatar after the game whether Slavomir Lener’s comments about the CHL stealing players from the Czech and Slovak junior leagues was accurate, and he told me that there is no option for junior players over there. When you’re 17 and 18, you either go and play on a men’s team, like he did for HkM Zvolen, or you come to North America, because you can’t play with the 14 and 15-year-olds anymore. There is no intermediary between midget hockey and the pro ranks, no OHL, no QMJHL, WHL, USHL, nothing. You’re a kid and then you’re good enough to play in the relatively professional Slovak league or you’re not.

He also seemed a little stunned, still, about the fact that he was picked to go to Toronto for a Top Prospects shoot for Upper Deck and Panini, and his English has improved by several orders of magnitude.

I hate to use the term, “He’s the kind of kid you root for,” but it’s true. He’s just a genuinely nice young man who told me he was going to play in North America last summer, and did it, and told me that he’s going to try to play more consistently this season and, if he’s lucky, get called up for a game or two, and otherwise just learn and work hard as he slowly makes the journey to the NHL. I’m not going to suggest that you do anything less than take him at his word this time around.

Edited by titanium2

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Tomas Tatar has grown up since stint with Wings' minor league team

Ted Kulfan / The Detroit News

Traverse City -- Tomas Tatar had to grow up quickly last year.

Tatar, at the tender age of 18, was the youngest player in the American Hockey League while a member of the Grand Rapids Griffins.

The native of Slovakia was away from home for the first time. Didn't know the language well.

"It was hard," said Tatar, who Saturday got the Red Wings started with a goal in their 6-1 victory over the Dallas Stars in the Prospects Tournament. "I didn't have experience in the league. It was my first season. I didn't know the language.

"But that season helped me, gave me experience, and I'll be more ready this season."

Tatar was the Wings' second-round pick in 2009 and has not disappointed with his development. Despite his youth and inexperience, Tatar scored 16 goals (with 16 assists) in 58 games for Grand Rapids.

At 5-foot-11 and 176 pounds, Tatar has good speed, is strong on the puck, but most of all, knows what to do with the puck.

"He's a kid who loves to score," said Griffins coach Curt Fraser, who is coaching the Wings' prospect team. "When he gets the puck, he's taking it to the net. He competes."

Said Jiri Fischer, the Wings' player development director: "He loves playing hockey, that's what I like about him. He comes in every day and makes everybody laugh and comfortable. He's a low maintenance kid.

"That wasn't easy (last season). First time living on his own, doing the bills and laundry and cooking, coming to North America. He did a great job."

Tatar is ticketed for Grand Rapids this season, but things should be a lot easier.

His English is fine. He's stronger physically. At age 19, Tatar feels like a seasoned AHL pro.

"I worked hard on my weight (Tatar gained some), I know what to expect, hopefully I can show them some more things," Tatar said.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detnews.com/article/20100911/SPORTS0103/9110419/1128/Tomas-Tatar-has-grown-up-since-stint-with-Wings--minor-league-team#ixzz0zIoiY9Qf

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Tatar ready for long AHL grind

By Sarah Lindenau – RedWingsCentral.com / September 12, 2010


Fatigue got the better of Tomas Tatar in his first North American season.

The Slovakian-born sparkplug joined the Grand Rapids Griffins last fall as the youngest player in the American Hockey League and impressed everybody by producing 21 points in his first 27 games.

But after a trip to the IIHF world junior championship at Christmas, he slowed, with 11 points in his final 31 contests.

"The AHL season is long and I actually started (on the ice) in July so the season was very long," Tatar said. "(With the trip to the WJC) it was a lot of games in such a short period of time and I struggled because I was tired."

When the season ended, an exhausted Tatar also traveled to Germany for the IIHF world championship, averaging over 11 minutes of ice time and scoring twice in six games with Slovakia.

"It was a good experience, playing against NHL stars like (Alexander) Ovechkin," Tatar said. "I appreciated that the coach gave me a chance, but I was tired there so it was tough for me."

The 19-year-old also faced the off-ice challenge of adjusting to a new language and culture. He lived by himself and used his Grand Rapids teammates to help him learn the language.

"It was tough for me because I didn't speak too much (English) last year," he said. "You have to learn because you have to speak with everyone. I listened to words and the guys in the locker room really helped."

Despite the mental and physical challenges Tatar faced, his overall numbers — 32 points in 58 games — were more than solid and he showed he might have what it takes to be a scoring-line NHLer. The adversity he faced will also help him grow as a player.

"Maybe last year I wasn't prepared for the AHL season because it is so long," he said. "This year I am more prepared and am ready to focus on helping Grand Rapids and maybe getting a couple of games with Detroit."

The 5-foot-10, 179-pound winger added 10 pounds of muscle to his frame, which should help him handle the longer AHL schedule.

"I felt last season I was a little bit light against other guys," Tatar said. "So I worked on my strength so I think I am stronger and more prepared for the season."

Tatar got off a good start on Saturday night when the Detroit Red Wings faced the Dallas Stars at the annual NHL prospects tournament in Traverse City. The diminutive forward helped get the offense rolling by scoring the first goal of the game. The Red Wings won 6-1 with goals from five different players.

"Scoring in the first game is good for my confidence," Tatar said. "My goal helped us get started and then there were five more. I think we were the better team tonight."

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League, language are new for Wings' top prospect Tatar adjusts to longer season


TRAVERSE CITY — Two things were major factors in Tomas Tatar's season last year: English and a 58-game schedule.

While one got better, the other got the better of him.

The Slovakian left winger worked on his language skills. He showed a drastic improvement from this time last year, when his broken English at the NHL Prospects Tournament was sometimes difficult to understand.

The 19-year-old's skills on the ice were prominently displayed early in the American Hockey League schedule, as he dazzled the Detroit Red Wings with 21 points in his first 27 games, despite being the youngest player in the entire AHL. However, he slowed down as the season wore on, notching just 11 points in his final 31 games for the Grand Rapids Griffins.

"I'm not surprised," Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill said. "He's a pretty young kid. It's just him maturing as a player and getting stronger. He's got the skills and he's hard-working. It's just an adjustment to the game over here."

The franchise's top prospect has done what the team expects in this week's tournament. Through two games, Tatar leads the Red Wings with two goals and three points.

"I think I'm a little better prepared for this season," Tatar said. "Last season, I didn't speak too much English. It was real tough for me, but the guys in the locker room were really helpful to me. Now I'm a little better and I've already played a season in the AHL. So I think this season will be better for me."

He's bulked up a bit, now carrying 188 pounds instead of the 179 he played at last season.

"Last year was so tough for me because I never played so many games like last year," Tatar said. "So I've worked hard and tried a little more to work on my weight. Now I'm five kilos up. That will be good for me."

Nill envisions the 2009 second-round pick as someone who can occupy a forward spot in a Red Wings jersey for many years to come.

"I project him to have top two line potential — a top six forward," Nill said. "He can score, is competitive and is strong on the puck. He's got a good chance of being a scorer at the next level. That's a big step from playing over there to playing here in the American league. And he handled it very well."

Tatar's game has often been compared to that of Jiri Hudler, who returns to the Red Wings this season after a year playing in Russia.

"He's a better skater than Jiri Hudler," Nill said. "Jiri might have a little better hockey sense, but he's a very skilled player for his age."

And despite only being 19 (he'll turn 20 in December), Tatar could be a player the Red Wings look to if they sustain some injuries to forwards during the season.

"I hope I can get up (to Detroit) for a couple games this season," Tatar said. "Maybe some players get injured. I never wish that kind of thing, but you never know."

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21 Tomas Tatar: Undersized only in terms of his height, the now-musclebound little Slovak winger whose shoulders make him look Popeye, Tatar’s dazzling ability to deke, dangle and fire wicked wrist shots and one-timers at the net after grinding the puck out in the corners like a fourth-liner, charging up the ice, lurking in dead spots or jamming the crease make him look like Jiri Hudler II, except that the player fans call “Tater Tot” (I believe it’s “TAH-tur,” but Ken Holland didn’t recognize his name until I said, “Ta-TAR") doesn’t just match Hudler’s enthusiasm--he’s probably the hardest worker on the team, and while he’s all of 19, he lived alone for a good chunk of last season while playing for the Grand Rapids Griffins, he lives with his girlfriend there now, and I’ve met 50-year-olds who are less level-headed or dead-on determined than Tomas. He already understands that he’s got a 24/7/365.25-a-year job, on and off the ice, to be the best player and professional athlete he can be while keeping his nose as straight as can be, and he’s incredibly humble given his celebrations. You will like him, and I’ll put it this way--last summer, he told me he was going to play in North America, and he did. This year, he says he hopes to earn a game or two with the Wings. He will.


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Personal: Lives in Dubnica, Slovakia…Best friend in hockey is teammate Jan Mursak…Greatest hockey memory is playing for Slovakia at the 2010 World Championship and helping Slovakia to a fourth-place finish at the 2009 World Junior Championship…Hockey idols as a youth were Pavel Bure and Steve Yzerman…Greatest influences on his career were his brothers…Plans to be a businessman after his playing career…Most exciting place he’s visited is Spain…Also speaks Czech and Slovakian…Played tennis and soccer growing up…Favorite food is steak…Favorite music is dance, house and techno…Favorite movie is American Pie…Favorite TV show is How I Met Your Mother…Favorite web site is facebook.com…Roots for Bayern Munich, a German soccer team…Favorite sport to watch besides hockey is tennis…Enjoys ping-pong, dancing and going to the gym.


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Ive stated in other threads that this kid will be a Wing before he's 20. We have a bonified scoring talent here, I hope the head office don't hold him back too long.

ah yes, seem's us Limeys know talent when they see it...........good for TT, now enjoy it.

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i love watching this kid play. maybe a little too eager, but once he settles down he'll be something.

one thing i hope he doesn't settle down is his hitting. what a welcome surprise, there. that guy hits with everything he's got, which isn't much, but it sure gets noticed.

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First NHL goal:

“He’s got a skill set,” coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s real intelligent. He’s good with the puck. He’s pretty strong on the puck. He’s going to have to put more pace in his game -- when he gets the puck, he’s going too slow right now, but that’s all part of becoming a pro and a good pro and playing at this level. He’s going to play in this league, for sure. Just how good a player he’s going to be is yet to be determined.”

Read more: Red Wings send Tomas Tatar back to minors | freep.com | Detroit Free Press http://www.freep.com/article/20110111/SPORTS05/110111039/Red-Wings-send-Tomas-Tatar-back-to-minors#ixzz1AoRFSLUL

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Any word if Tatar will join the Slovak National Team for the World Championships? I heard he is being considered, but dunno how it works since he is a Black Ace.

Slovaks just need to ask the Wings permission to use him. If they say yes, he can go, if they refuse, then he can't.

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