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Where To Play Tomas Tatar When Everyone’s Healthy

Since being acquired from the Detroit Red Wings, Tomas Tatar has played in four games. He has one goal, seven shots on goal, a -5 rating, and an average ice time of 15:36. The team is 1-3-0 in those four games.

Now, before we go killing the new guy, let’s start by pointing out that he’s played on four different lines, all with significantly different characteristics. Tatar has played with Hyka and Eakin, Perron and Haula, Tuch and Eakin, and Carpenter and Eakin. To this point, none of them have been a match, but of course, we are judging each on a single game.

The fact of the matter is that Tomas Tatar is not coming out of the lineup anytime. He’s far too talented on the power play, way too fast, and has too much skill to be taken out of the lineup in favor of a Tomas Hyka, Oscar Lindberg or William Carrier.

So, much like we did with Alex Tuch back in November, this is an exercise in finding Tatar the right linemates to help him thrive, and in turn, create a third scoring line heading into the playoffs.

The initial plan when Tatar was brought in was for him to slot into the Leipsic/Lindberg/Hyka third line wing slot. The main question though is whether or not he will fit with Tuch. In just a short time together, Tuch and Tatar have not been a match. Their Corsi For % is just 35%, they’ve allowed eight shots on goal while just creating one, and have yet to create much by way of scoring chances. In fact, for a majority of the game in which they played together, they were hemmed in their own end.

James Neal: Third Line Winger? (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

If Tuch and Tatar are not a fit together, that means one of them must make their way onto the Haula/Perron/Neal line. In James Neal’s absence, Tuch has quietly become a force on the second line. He was moved up when Neal went out in the first Kings game, and it took a little while for them to gel. But when it did, they’ve become a versatile offensive line that has put up big advanced stat numbers since. Against Columbus, that line outshot the Blue Jackets 15-3 and accounted for the Golden Knights only goal.

Which leaves James Neal needing a place when he’s ready to return. That would mean pairing him up with Tatar and having the line centered by Cody Eakin. Way back at the beginning of the season, Eakin centered the line with Perron and Neal, and for a short time, they were excellent. Think back to Dallas, Arizona both home and away and Detroit, Neal scored in all of them. Eakin tallied a pair of assists and got on the board playing with Neal and Perron a few games later.

Then All Star head coach Gerard Gallant realized he needed to inject a bit of speed into that line. He moved up Erik Haula, and things had been great since. Now, that speed can be brought by Tatar. The line would be well balanced with a speed guy, a shooter, and a defensive specialist, plus all three players are solid controlling the puck.

Assuming Reilly Smith’s health, this would be the Top 9.

Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith
Perron-Haula-Tuch
Tatar-Eakin-Neal

That would leave Bellemare and Nosek to continue playing together and either Carpenter or Reaves fitting in their place.

The problem is that three of the four lines would be different from what got the Golden Knights to the dance in the first place. This setup may look best for now, but there’s simply no right answer. When it was Leipsic, Lindberg, Hyka, or anyone else on the third line, they appeared to be the problem needing fixing, but if the supposed fix in Tatar isn’t a fit, then further shuffling is needed.

There’s a long-standing saying in sports that “you can never have too much depth.” That may indeed be true, and the Golden Knights are going to find out, but with depth comes decisions, and with decisions come mistakes.

Gallant has done an award-winning job up until this point, but his toughest task is ahead trying to juggle a lineup that when healthy has too many pieces… and we haven’t even started talking about the “fourth” line yet.

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3 Comments

  1. Steve T

    I think having too much depth is a good problem to have. I like your lineup,adds scoring to the third line without hurting the other lines. Right now the Knights are in a slump,happens to all teams. We have guys hurt,others being shuffled around. Let’s get healthy and get ready for the playoffs. No matter how this season turns out it’s been one hell of a ride that nobody expected. Go Knights

  2. Thomas Simpson LV - Yoopers

    I agree with your lines mentioned. Tatar played on a line with Zetterberg and Nyquist. Tatar is better with a center that is a good passer and plays defense allowing him to move up the ice freely. Eakin can do this. I think Neal is better than Nyquist but can pass the puck just as good if not better than Nyquist. Plus, Neal can move in the corner and win pucks. When guys win a battle in the corner the puck usually comes either to the sides or around the dot where Tatar does his damage.

  3. RJ

    I started reading this article in defense mode. Perron-Haula-Neal is the way to go on that second line. Ken is reaching here and he needs to hear some reason.

    But damn, I’m convinced. I really think this is an elegant solution to the problem of what to do with all our vast riches. Once everyone is healthy I hope Gallant has the freedom to roll these guys out in these lines for a few games before the playoffs start.

    I still want to see more Carpenter and Nosek at the C position, as a more offensively capable alternative to Eakin, but it’s also possible that that might not be needed.

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