Lately I've been really interested in the play of Tomas Tatar. He seems to pass every eye test. The Wings seem to spend a lot of time generating chances when he's on the ice. He plays hard every shift, and seems to doing an excellent job all-around of proving he belongs in the league. Early in the season he struggled to crack the lineup, and he's since owned his 3rd line spot with various 2nd line cameos. The most encouraging part is he seems to do this regardless of his teammates. Last night he was on a line with the Evil Villain Sammy, and he still produced an eye-popping 83% corsi at 5v5. Babcock's usage of Tatar has popped up as an occasional hot-button topic. In the 3 recent OT games, he was benched for the second half of the 3rd period and for all of OT in 2 of those games. I tended to believe the benchings were unwarranted given what has appeared to be remarkably consistent performances from Tatar, but I wanted something better than the eye test to back things up. So I decided to do some nerdy number diving. I'll keep this post fairly brief so you can just take in the basic points here, but the short of it is that the numbers appear to back up the eye test.
First, let's look at the top 7 forwards on the team in corsi%. I am limiting this to forwards who have played at least 100 5v5 minutes so we can work with a decent sample size. Here's the top 7:
|Player Name||Corsi Percentage|
Well then. That's pretty dang good. He has fewer games played than all of those guys, but at 11th in total ice time among forwards, he's into plenty good enough sample size territory. Sure a lot of that time has come against easier competition, but plenty of forwards on the roster have had that easier competition and not done nearly that much with it. This alone is pretty astounding, and suggests maybe Tatar should be getting some bigger minutes. I wanted more, though, so I decided to look at how linemates do with and without Tatar. It's possible he's just been on some nice lines that have allowed him to take advantage of nice situations. There are 5 forwards on the Wings roster who have skated at least 15 minutes at 5v5 with Tatar, and 2 of those have logged 50 minutes with him. I've also put those into a chart, sorted by most minutes with Tatar descending. So the biggest sample size is with Abdelkader and Andersson at the top:
|Forward||with Tatar||without Tatar|
So every single player who has played significant 5v5 minutes with Tatar has performed better with him than without him. The sample sizes are a bit smaller with the latter 3 than the first 2, which is why the gaps are a bit more extreme than usual, but the pattern here is undeniable - Tatar has driven play on every line on which he's played significant minutes so far this season. These numbers don't look like an inconsistent youngster, this actually looks like one of the most consistent players on the team. It's difficult to compare corsi of forwards with that of defenseman, but I decided to run this same chart with the Wings primary 6 defensemen. I figured the sample size there is going to be bigger and more consistent just with the way rotations work, so let's look at that. This is also sorted by most minutes with Tatar, but the numbers are much more balanced (46 minutes for Kindl, 32 for Kronwall, 30 for Smith):
|Defenseman||with Tatar||without Tatar|
More of the same. My conclusion isn't too difficult to figure out. I think Tatar absolutely needs to be getting more ice time than he is right now. I understand the difficulties with people being bumped around if you put him on the 2nd line, but right now the Wings have struggled to get 2nd line production while they have a player getting overly light minutes who is driving play on every single line he's been on so far. There's always room on a top scoring line for a guy like that. I don't know what the ideal 2nd line is, but it seems to me Tatar should probably be on it. I'm not in practice, on the bench, or in the locker room, so I won't pretend to know whether or not other factors are at play. But if we're strictly talking about Tatar's on-ice performance, it's been almost universally excellent so far.
First chart stats courtesy of ExtraSkater.com
WOWY chart stats courtesy of Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com