From the very beginning, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar’s careers have been strikingly similar. Both players were considered mid-level prospects coming into their respective drafts, with Nyquist being selected 121st overall in 2008 and Tatar coming in at pick No. 60 in 2009. They both spent significant time developing in Grand Rapids, and each recorded one goal in a handful of NHL appearances from 2010-2012.
Both players fought for a roster spot but were beat out by veterans for the better part of the 2012-13 season, Tatar finishing with seven points in 18 games to Nyquist’s six in 22. Although neither had been able to find playing time for the Wings consistently, there was excitement about their potential heading into the summer of 2013, when general manager Ken Holland decided to bring back veteran Dan Cleary. The move deepened the logjam at forward once again, stealing Nyquist’s opportunity to finally play a full NHL season (a memory that has lingered in the minds of Wings fans who want Holland replaced by Steve Yzerman).
The Next Euro Twins?
Despite the setback, Nyquist proved his worth and earned a spot on the Wings next to Tatar about a quarter of the way through the 2013-14 season, where they began to look like the next Red Wings superstars. Tallying 28 goals and 20 assists in just 57 games, Nyquist caught the hockey world by storm. Paired with Tatar’s 39 points in 73 games, the touted “second coming of the Euro Twins” had quickly become two pillars of the Wings’ offense by their early-20s.
Detroit’s ability to steal dynamic, goal-scoring European wingers late in the draft and develop them in the AHL continued to set the bar for scouts and management around the league. The hype continued to grow during the 2014-15 season as both players finally had the chance to play a full 82 games. Tatar finished with 56 points while Nyquist posted 54, including this unforgettable overtime winner:
As two of then-coach Mike Babcock’s favorites, the Wings’ coaching change in the summer of 2015 undoubtedly affected their performances the following year. For the first time in their careers, both players saw a dip in their total scoring, with Nyquist dropping from 54 points to 43 and Tatar from 56 points to 45. Under the leadership of Jeff Blashill, both players have seemed to plateau, lacking that next step management had hoped for in what should have been the beginning of their prime.
Tatar Traded, Nyquist Next?
For over two decades, pundits wondered when the Hockeytown dynasty would finally collapse. When the core of the Wings’ Cup teams in ’97, ’98 and ’02 passed the torch on to Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, many wondered how they could possibly fill the shoes of all-time greats like Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan; but they delivered, and brought home another Cup in 2008.
As Zetterberg and Datsyuk’s careers dwindled down, many believed Tatar and Nyquist would assume the mantle of the Wings’ offense and push the playoff streak even further, but the burden proved to be too much to bear. In the 2016-17 season, Nyquist finished with just 48 points to Tatar’s 46, and the Wings missed the playoffs for the first time in over 25 years.
As the 2017-18 season progressed and the trade deadline approached, it was clear that Holland had officially accepted the reality that the Red Wings were in need of a significant rebuild. Having already shipped off Brendan Smith, Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott at the 2017 deadline, Riley Sheahan in a midseason deal and Petr Mrazek to the debilitated Flyers, Holland pulled the trigger and dealt his biggest piece yet.
Tatar’s career with the Red Wings came to an end in a shocking last-minute deal with the Vegas Golden Knights for a 2018 first-round pick, 2019 second round-pick, and a 2021 third-round pick. The trade has widely been considered the best move thus far in the Wings’ rebuild and leaves many wondering if Nyquist comes next.
It’s almost eerie how similar these two have been since Hakan Andersson and company first discovered them in Europe over 10 years ago: from the 2012-13 campaign to 2016-17, Nyquist and Tatar finished within two points of each other in four of five seasons. Nyquist is listed at 5-foot-11 and 184 pounds; Tatar is 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds. Their stories, their stature and their seasons have been mirror images of each other for a decade.
Holland knew that Tatar would no longer be in his prime by the time Detroit is a contender again and dealt him away for future assets. If the Wings can work around Nyquist’s no-trade clause this season, these two might have the same fate once again.
Jake Nagy is a travel enthusiast and writer covering all things Detroit Red Wings for The Hockey Writers.