Last season, Tomas Tatar took the next step in his development, dazzling Red Wings’ fans with his lightning quick hands and delighting them with his exuberance. On Monday afternoon, Detroit signed the restricted free agent to a three-year deal with an AAV of $2.75 million. While the Wings may have struck out recently with some of the contracts doled out, the Tatar deal is a clear win.
In this graph of zone start adjusted Corsi For%, Tatar compares very favorably to the other players. In fact, not only does Tatar top this chart, he also led the Red Wings in Corsi For% among players who played 62 games or more.
When he is on the ice, the Wings seem to dominate the flow of play. Part of this dominance can be attributed to Tatar’s ability to generate a high volume of shot attempts to keep the opposition under pressure. Tatar generated 14.9 individual Corsi events per 60 this past season, which ranked third on the Wings behind only Henrik Zetterberg and Gustav Nyquist (minimum of 500 minutes played). Essentially, the Wings have managed to lock up a player that generated more total even-strength shot attempts per 60 minutes than Pavel Datsyuk, and a higher non-adjusted Corsi For% than Sidney Crosby, all for just $2.75 million a season for the next three years.
Tatar is still a very young player who has much to learn. The Wings have a fewer opportunities to maximize his efficacy over the next three years. The Wings can do a few different ways by utilizing Tatar with the right linemates, carefully watching his zone starts, and paying attention to his quality of competition.
Below is a table showing all of Tatar’s line combinations that were on the ice for at least 50 5-on-5 Corsi events last season.
All of Tatar’s lines were effective, but he was most effective when used with either Riley Sheahan or Gustav Nyquist. The line combination of Nyquist-Sheahan-Tatar had a 5-on-5 Corsi For% of 58.8%, but perhaps more impressively, scored eight goals and yielded none. Moving forward, the Wings would be wise to continue to pair him with Sheahan and either Nyquist or Tomas Jurco as the other winger.
The other key numbers to keep an eye on are Tatar’s zone starts and quality of competition.
While Tatar was a strong possession player, he was often sheltered, starting more than 40% of his 5-on-5 shifts in the offensive zone. In addition, Tatar faced a fairly low quality of competition. The Wings will have to determine if Tatar can maintain a similar Corsi for% while facing a higher quality of competition and starting a higher percentage of his shifts in the neutral and defensive zones. It would be a mistake to immediately throw Tatar’s line against the top competition based on last season’s numbers. Instead, Mike Babcock and his staff should focus on slowly increasing the level of competition he faces while finding situational matchups that Tatar’s line will be able to exploit.
It’s still too early to determine how good of a player Tatar can be. We don’t know if he’ll reach the level of guys like Matt Duchene or Jamie Benn. However, the 2013-14 season showed us Tatar has the potential to be a special player. The level of production he provides at an AAV of $2.75 million is fantastic. It gets even better for the Wings when you consider the fact that Tatar will remain a restricted free agent after this new contract expires. Ken Holland may have swung and missed a lot this summer, but this deal was knocked out of the park.
Prashanth is a fourth-year doctor of pharmacy student at the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy who has passionately followed the Detroit Red Wings since 1996. Follow him on Twitter @iyer_prashanth