The World Junior Championship is typically a tournament for 19-year-old players. It's by far the most prestigious and most popular tournament for junior hockey, earning the eye of scouts and fans alike each December. Despite the incredible talent at the tournament every year, it's not considered to be a big tournament for draft eligible players. The best of the best will certainly find their way on the team, but every year is crucial in development -- 19-year-olds are just better prepared for the tournament. Look no further than Colorado's Matt Duchene for a player passed over for this tournament.
For a country like Slovakia, winners of just one medal (a bronze) in the history of the tournament, the tournament can be tremendously challenging. Slovakia has put together competitive clubs over the years, but it's very difficult for a young player to stand out, even if they're given ice time.
Apparently, no one this to told Tomas Tatar. Barely 18 and a virtual unknown before the tournament, Tatar emerged as a star at the 2009 WJCs. Tatar led Slovakia in scoring with seven goals and 11 points in seven games, including several highlight reel goals and a pair of clutch goals in a huge upset over the United States.
After Detroit selected Tatar in the 2nd round the following June, many were wondering if Tatar's WJC performance was a fluke, or if he was the real deal. That was a question that Tatar soon answered. Despite being drafted into the OHL, and having an offer to play professional hockey in Slovakia, Tatar focused in on making the AHL and earning a contract from Detroit. He did.
Visa issues kept him out of the first few games, but Tatar found himself a regular after the first month of the season. Production was slow at first, but Tatar started to catch fire in November, becoming one of the top scorers on the Griffins during that team. All this was despite being the youngest player in the league. Tatar not only proved his WJC was not a fluke, but he proved to be a steal for Detroit at 60th overall.
Winging it in Motown had a chance to speak with Tatar about his adjustments to the AHL, his performances at the WJC, and being invited to Slovakia's Olympic camp.
WIM: How do you feel you feel this season is going?
TATAR: I feel great here. It’s a man’s league here, I think it’s pretty good. It’s a perfect experience for my hockey life. I feel the league is really good, and I like it here.
WIM: How has it been adjusting to the AHL from Slovakia?
TATAR: This league is so much more physical and faster. The big difference here is age. The Slovak league plays with older guys. They are smart, but they don’t skate like everyone does over here. Everyone here wants to play in the NHL, so everyone’s fighting for their place. I think there is a big difference with the speed in the league, and the physical play, like in the corners.
WIM: Being the youngest player in the league, what were your expectations of yourself coming into the AHL? Did you think you’d be able to score as much as you have?
TATAR: I don’t know. I was a little nervous coming here because I had never played in the United States before. Some leagues never play in North America. I was a little bit nervous, but I had to learn the style here because it’s a little bit different. Many times here you just dump the puck and force it. I needed to learn that, and I think now I’m ok. But in Grand Rapids, now, we are not really good in the standings. We must be better, and we need some confidence in the locker room.
WIM: After you were drafted in both the NHL and OHL (drafted by Kitchener, rights traded to Plymouth), did you have any preference about playing professional or junior?
TATAR: Yeah. When I was in camp and someone asked me where I wanted to play, I always said here, in the AHL. Last year I played in the men’s league in Slovakia. I think it would be a step back to go play in the OHL, with the junior club. I think the junior league here is so good, too. But I play with men last year, so I was ready for big battles in the corner -- for typical men’s hockey. I felt like it would be a step back to go play in junior.
WIM: Going back to the draft last year, did you think that Detroit was interested in you?
TATAR: Yeah. I had many meetings with other teams, but Detroit called me a couple times. They were checking me in some games in the Slovak league. They talked with me in Toronto in the draft combine. I thought that Detroit was a team that could draft me.
WIM: Were you a Red Wings fan growing up?
TATAR: Yeah, they were my favorite team. I was so excited.
WIM: Did you get a chance to meet anyone you idolized growing up?
TATAR: Yeah, almost everybody, all the NHL guys. I met with everyone from the managers to the players, all the big stars. It was a good experience for me, too.
WIM: What were your impressions of the organization and the city when you were in your first camp?
TATAR: I knew something about the organization before. They asked me all the normal questions, and what the plans were for me with the Detroit Red Wings. It was just all the normal questions for anybody playing somewhere new.
WIM: How would you describe your style of play?
TATAR: Almost everybody thinks about me like I’m a sniper. I think if I have a chance, I know I can get a goal, but I think I’m a pretty good passer, too. I think maybe I’m a playmaker, too. I like playing physical, and fighting in the corner. I like playing in the offensive zone. I must work hard on my speed. Here, in North America, almost everybody is a good skater. I need to be a little bit better with that, and in the defensive zone. You know, everybody has a different hockey style, and I need to get better in the defensive zone. Here they are so different with defensive styles, not like in Europe.
WIM: How close do you feel you are to playing in the NHL? What might you need to work on?
TATAR: I am still young, so I have time to get to the NHL. I ask guys what is the biggest difference between the NHL and AHL, the guys say it’s almost the same. I must work hard and always be ready for the call up.
WIM: Moving on to the World Juniors, did you expect Slovakia to perform well after last year?
TATAR: This year was a much different team than last year’s. This year was a much different year for the players. Last year, we went in, and it was like nobody knew about Slovakia or something. We were the biggest surprise in the tournament. This year, nobody took it easy on us. Everybody knew we were pretty good. We won against America. It was tough for us. Maybe some players played specially against me. It was so tough. On the roster, we had very offensive guys, but not as many guys for defense. We made a lot of mistakes in the defensive zone, and I think that was the problem.
WIM: Heading into last year’s tournament, as a draft eligible player in a tournament for 20-year-olds, did you expect you’d score as much as you did?
TATAR: It was a different tournament than this one. We were a young line, with Richard [Panik, who is Tampa Bay property] and Marek Viedensky [San Jose]. We know we are not the best players. We said that we must play simple, and if we have the chance, shoot the puck on the net. We had maybe a little luck, because it was like almost every shot was going in. But, I think if you want to play hockey, you will need luck. We might have had luck, but it was such a good tournament. We had a good team in the defensive zone. The goalkeeper [Jaroslav Janus, Tampa Bay] was so great. It was a good experience for me.
WIM: What’s a typical game day like for you? Do you do anything special?
TATAR: No, I don’t have a special ritual. Usually the guys will go somewhere together to eat and talk a little bit about hockey, like what we need to do, what we need to work on together. After, just a nap, and wake up and be ready for hockey.
WIM: Since you’re in the United States for your first year, what do you do in your spare time to relax?
TATAR: You know, I am so excited here. There is so much stuff I can do after practice. Almost every day I do something different. It’s such a different country. Sometimes we go to the mall, sometimes to the cinema, sometimes going to a bar, going to dinner. We were in Chicago, in the downtown. There is so much to do here. The guys show me, almost every day, something new.
WIM: What did it mean to you to get invited to Slovakia’s Olympic camp?
TATAR: Wow, that was a really good experience. I was so happy. I don’t want to go to the Olympics, because I feel I’m not ready for Olympic games. But I was there with guys who played many years in the NHL, and I think they’re so good. It was a big experience for me. I just asked guys what they do in the summer, and, same like here, I was new there, so guys would take me somewhere. I had a great time there.
WIM: What players in particular helped you out?
TATAR: Pavol Demitra, Marian Hossa, Zdeno Chara, almost everybody who’s going to the Olympics. There were big names.
American Hockey League
|3||Logan Pyett||Grand Rapids||49||7
||1G, -1, 2PIM in 3GP
|4||Travis Ehrhardt||Grand Rapids||29||0||4||4||-10||28||-1, 2PIM in 3GP
|5||Jakub Kindl||Grand Rapids||42||3||16||19||-8||32||-2 in 3GP
|7||Sebastien Piche||Grand Rapids||9||0||0||0||-1||4||Playing in Toledo (ECHL)|
|8||Cory Emmerton||Grand Rapids||46||7
||-1||14||-5 in 3GP
|9||Evan McGrath||Grand Rapids||45||8
||16||-13||23||1A, -1, 5PIM in 3GP
|12||Dick Axelsson||Grand Rapids||17||2||3||5||+1||6||Playing in Farjestad (SEL)|
|13||Jan Mursak||Grand Rapids||48||18||9||27||+10||19||1G, 1A, 2PIM in 3GP
||First goal in nearly a month
|17||Francis Pare||Grand Rapids||47||9
||1G in 3GP
|18||Mattias Ritola||Grand Rapids||39||10||9||19||-7||36||-1, 2PIM in 2GP
|25||Jamie Tardif||Grand Rapids||44||10||7||17||-9||58||-1, 5PIM in 3GP
|27||Tomas Tatar||Grand Rapids||33
||10||11||21||+8||6||-1 in 3GP
|28||Sergei Kolosov||Grand Rapids||43
||1||3||4||-6||17||-2 in 3GP
|31||Daniel Larsson||Grand Rapids||31
||.900||0-1, GAA down, sv% up
|35||Thomas McCollum||Grand Rapids||21||7||10
||0||3.53||.875||0-2, GAA up, sv% same
|36||Jordan Pearce||Grand Rapids||5||1||2||0||3.82||.875||Playing in Toledo (ECHL)
|20||Travis Ehrhardt||Toledo||3||1||1||2||+4||0||Playing in Grand Rapids|
|25||Sebastien Piche||Toledo||22||4||10||14||+4||28||1G, 2A in 2GP
|30||Thomas McCollum||Toledo||4||2||1||0||4.48||.864||Playing in Grand Rapids|
|35||Jordan Pearce||Toledo||21||9||9||1||3.74||.884||1-0, GAA up, sv% same
||1G, 4PIM in 2GP
||UM@Wisc outdoor game, Sat on BTN
|7||Max Nicastro||Boston U.||24||2||8||10||22||1G, 1A, 2PIM in 2GP
|16||Nick Oslund||St. Cloud St.||28||4||4||8||20
|| 3 GWGs
||6PIM in 2GP
|89||Bryan Rufenach||Clarkson||25||5||11||16||41||2PIM in 2GP
|89||Gustav Nyquist||Maine||22||13||19||32||12||1G, 3A in 2GP
||6th in NCAA scoring
||2G, 1A, +1 in 2GP
||You don't go PPG in the SEL with a bad work ethic.
||4||6||10||-12||4||-4, 2PIM in 2GP
||Team worst +/-|
|18||Joakim Andersson||Frolunda||44||5||11||16||+8||34||-1 in 2GP
|24||Jesper Samuelsson||Timra||23||0||1||1||+0||8||Playing in SWE-2
||2A, -1 in 2GP
||6A in last 8GP
|16||Johan Ryno||AIK||37||6||9||15||+9||28||1G, 1A, +3, 6PIM in 3GP
|--||Adam Almqvist||Troja/Ljungby||0||0||0||0||0||0||Playing with HV71 (SEL)|
Swedish J20 League
|4||Adam Almqvist||HV71||15||5||29||34||+14||14||Playing with HV71 (SEL)|
Kontinental Hockey League
|21||Gennady Stolyarov||HC MVD||0||0||0||0||0||0||Behind schedule on injury
|26||Jiri Hudler||Moscow Dynamo||48
||17||31||48||16||3G, 8A, 2PIM in 8GP
||Two weeks worth of stats
Ontario Hockey League
||4||+0||2||2G, 1A, 2PIM in 3GP|
||Traded to Windsor
|18||Brian Lashoff||Kingston||43||6||13||19||-9||53||1G, +2 in 2GP
Western Hockey League
|9||Brent Raedeke||Edmonton||39||17||14||31||+4||60||Traded to Brandon|
||2A, +1, 2PIM in 2GP
|13||Landon Ferraro||Red Deer||34
||21||33||-5||38||2G, 2A, +1, 2PIM in 4GP
|19||Willie Coetzee||Red Deer||53||25||46||71||+7||22||4G, 2A, -1, 2PIM in 4GP
||10pts in 6GP
||17||24||41||+1||130||1G, 1A, -1, 14 PIM in 4GP
||6pts in 7GP
Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
|11||Andrej Nestrasil||Victoriaville||38||14||26||40||-1||30||-1 in 1GP
||Returned from injury
|14||Gleason Fournier||Rimouski||43||10||29||39||+4||66||2G, 4A, 2PIM in 3GP
||4G in 6GP
United States Hockey League
|6||Nick Jensen||Green Bay||33||1||14||15||+23||12||1G, 2A, +7, 2PIM in 3GP
||1st goal of season|