Expectations were relatively low for Tomas Tatar after he was acquired right before training camp. However, after a career year, those expectations will be a lot higher heading into 2019-20. Will he be able to live up to them?
Tatar had a miserable finish to his abbreviated season in Vegas the year before to the point where he was perceived as someone that could have negative value. As it was, the Golden Knights had to pay down $500,000 of his contract in each year while essentially making him a salary cap throw-in for the Max Pacioretty-Nick Suzuki trade.
While there was some hope that Tatar would be able to rebound, no one was really expecting him to become a fixture on what was basically their top line. Instead, he was a key part of his trio with Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher, the unit that became their top two-way group for the majority of the season. It also helped that Tatar was able to make an impact even in games where he wasn’t producing, something that had been an issue for him in previous years.
The end result was a new career-high in both assists and points despite his ATOI being nearly identical from the year before. It’s also worth noting that he was third on the team in power play points by a forward. The point total (8) wasn’t very high but Tatar was still better than most of the team which has to count for something.
Season Stats: 80 GP, 25 goals, 33 assists, 58 points, +21 rating, 34 PIMS, 4 PPG, 4 GWG, 195 shots, 16:25 ATOI, 59.6 CF%
5 Year Averages
As I’ve mentioned in the articles about Danault and Gallagher, it’s hard to envision this line being broken up to start this coming season as they were so effective at five-on-five. So to start, not much should change.
I do see Jesperi Kotkaniemi being moved up the lineup at some point to give him a look on a more offensive unit and at that time, it’s possible that Tatar could get the chance to play with a more offensively-skilled linemate which could give his offensive numbers a boost. A trio with those two should also be deployed in the offensive zone more often; it’s worth noting that Tatar’s oZS% was the lowest of his career at 50.3. Boost that closer to his career rate (55.9) and he could very well be more of an offensive weapon this season.
With regards to the power play, he saw a lot of time on the man advantage last season and there’s little reason to think he won’t be again. He was someone that actually moved the puck a bit (notable on what was a very stagnant man advantage at times) so even if they revamp things, he’ll undoubtedly be viewed as part of the solution.
Any time a player has a career year, the temptation is to look for reasons why it won’t happen again. Is the Tatar-Danault-Gallagher line going to be as dominant at five-on-five? Probably not but they shouldn’t fall off a cliff either. Was his shooting percentage unsustainable? It was actually below his career average. And we certainly know his power play production wasn’t the reason for it; he had more power play goals in 2017-18 than he had power play points last season. About the only real outlier is his even strength assists (29) which was well above his previous career best (18).
Where am I going with all this? On the surface, there doesn’t appear to be much of a reason to expect significant regression. Even if his even strength production dips a bit, a few more power play points should help balance that out. He has either scored or played at a 20-goal pace in each of his six NHL seasons so as long as he stays healthy, that’s a reasonable floor for him. Maybe he gets a new career high and maybe he doesn’t. Either way, a stat line close to last year is a reasonable expectation.
A winger with a point total in the 50s shouldn’t be going until around the middle stages of a draft in most leagues (towards the end in 12-team or fewer pools) so Tatar shouldn’t be one of the first few Habs off the board. Given how much his reputation took a hit from his time in Vegas (and let’s face it, he was having an off-year with Detroit before that trade too), he’s someone that some managers will shy away from or lower in their rankings so he’s someone that stands out as a possible value selection.