While owner Mike Ilitch made his fortune delivering HOT-N-READY® pizzas, the management of the Detroit Red Wings prefers a far slower approach with its incoming talent.
Take Tomáš Tatar for example. If the 20-year old Slovak was flying under fantasy radars at all prior to this season, you couldn't have missed him November 30th if you visited any hockey-related website worth its salt. That's because the night before, Tatar unleashed a staggering seven-point performance for the Grand Rapids Griffins in a 10-8 win over the Chicago Wolves in AHL action.
Most NHL franchises would rush a player with that sort of scoring prowess to the NHL, but not the Red Wings. That's just not the way they do it. Drafted 60th overall in 2009, Tatar is being groomed for a front-line scoring role at the AHL level instead of being thrown to the sharks (or Sharks for that matter) like a number of other faltering freshman.
Grand Rapids Head Coach Curt Fraser, who ranks first among active AHL coaches in NHL head-coaching experience with 279 games, told PROSPECT PRESCRIPTION that Tatar has all the skills to become a star in the NHL but that he's likely a few seasons away from making a real impact.
Fraser, who coached the Atlanta Thrashers from 1999 to 2003, says prior to the 2009-10 season everyone expected that Tatar would return home to play another season with HKm Zvolen but he earned a spot on the Griffins' opening night roster, making him the youngest player in the AHL last season and the first Detroit draft pick to begin the season with the Griffins in the same season he was drafted.
Tatar led Grand Rapids' rookies in scoring with 16 goals and 32 points in 58 games, and also represented Slovakia at both the World Junior Championship in Canada and the World Championship in Germany. This season, he's scored 10 goals and 30 points in 37 games.
"He's done some really good things for us since he got here and he's way ahead of his development curve," says Fraser. "Then he had a chance to go up to Detroit for a couple of games and he really earned some valuable experience, which has really helped him at our level too."
Tatar recently played nine games with the big club (scoring his first NHL goal against Dwayne Roloson) out of necessity due to injuries to forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Danny Cleary but as the Red Wings prepared for the veterans' return, he was sent back down to the Griffins on January 15