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Dec. 31, 2010

by Ansar Khan -

DETROIT -- The Detroit Red Wings thought they landed a gem with the 60th overall pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft, when they selected skilled Slovakian forward Tomas Tatar.

He impressed them during his first training camp three months later and turned pro ahead of schedule at age 19, spending the season with the Grand Rapids Griffins as the youngest player in the AHL.

He is leading the Griffins in scoring this season and appears to have a bright future.

Tatar made his NHL debut Friday and scored his first goal, tipping in a shot by Darren Helm to tie the game with 9:42 to play in the third period. The Red Wings lost to the New York Islanders 4-3 in overtime, but it was a memorable night for Tatar.

"It really surprised me because I was on the ice with the Griffins (for practice Friday), but my coach (Curt Fraser) called me from the ice and told me I would play tonight for the  Red Wings," Tatar said. "I was ready for the game. I was kind of nervous, but after the first couple of shifts I felt so much better."

He was called up to replace Patrick Eaves, who was scratched due to an undisclosed upper-body injury that has him listed as day-to-day.

"He's got a passion for the game and good offensive instincts,'' Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill said of Tatar. "He thinks the game well. There's an energy to his game. He's the first guy in the corner getting the puck. He goes to the net."

For now, the Red Wings will be happy if he provides energy and plays well defensively during his limited ice time, which was coach Mike Babcock's message before the game.

"I like all the young guys in training camp,'' Babcock said. "I watch them, say it's a nice play, and then we dig (the puck) out of our net. We send them to the minors so they learn to stand in the right spots.''

Tatar (5-foot-10, 185) has nine goals and 20 assists in 35 games for the Griffins.

Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader spent part of last season in Grand Rapids with Tatar and was impressed by his skills.

"I think he can play anywhere they put him,'' Abdelkader said. "He's young so he's still learning a lot, but he'll be a player that'll come in and I think can contribute right away. He can hang onto the puck and fits in well in our system.''

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