Tomas Tatar's journey from the other man in the Pacioretty trade to fan favourite
Tatar begins his 2nd season in Montreal after reaching a career high 58 points last year
Tomas Tatar is a key part of the Montreal Canadiens now, but that's in stark contrast to where things began.
He wasn't the headline when he was traded to Montreal ahead of the 2018-19 NHL season.
The Habs general manager Marc Bergevin identified Nick Suzuki as the key factor in the deal that sent the Habs then-captain Max Pacioretty to Vegas. Tatar was merely part of the package and his stock was low.
He was coming off his worst season statistically as a pro, was a healthy scratch during much of the playoffs with Vegas and was carrying a salary north of $5 million per season.
"People here talk about that season in Vegas like a full catastrophe. I still wouldn't change a thing. We went to the finals," Tatar says.
The trade to Montreal rejuvenated his career.
In his first season with Montreal, his game reached new heights. On the ice he scored a career-best 58 points and off the ice, fans have embraced him as he's bought in to what it means to live in Montreal.
A fan-friendly social media sensation
You've probably seen the video online.
Habs superfan Derek Toulouse, since dubbed the "Tatar Guy," points at the camera and unleashes a quick "Tomas" followed by a long drawn out "Ta-tarrrrrrrrrr."
Even if you aren't a hockey fan it probably ended up on your social media feed.
"I like this kind of stuff," Tatar says.
Great goal tonight <a href="https://twitter.com/TomasTatar90?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TomasTatar90</a> go to the cup <a href="https://twitter.com/GMolsonCHC?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@GMolsonCHC</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/Palambert1234?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Palambert1234</a> <a href="https://t.co/yIEVEXrI3E">pic.twitter.com/yIEVEXrI3E</a>—@DerekToulouse
While some athletes try to ignore social media, Tatar went the other way and leaned into the viral moment.
"I thought it was really funny and I was watching it over and over again."
He ended up inviting Toulouse to be his guest for a home game and in turn, endeared himself to the entire Montreal Canadiens fan base.
"You don't get to meet this big of a fan every day," Tatar says. "I wanted to meet him and make his day better."
Learning French and living in the city
To take it up another notch, Tatar has also started taking French lessons.
"I just wanted to know a few words. I'm making guys laugh when I walk around and I say something in French," Tatar says.
He admits he's a long way off from speaking fluently, but says learning what he can is a way of showing respect for the fans and the city where he lives.
Tatar knows how tough a language barrier can be.
He first left his home country, Slovakia, when he was only 18. While he spoke and understood most Slavic languages, and studied German in school, none of that helped him in North America.
"It's kind of on me. I didn't get ready with my English and I think it was slowing me down at the start," Tatar says.
Tatar's desire to be involved in his community also extends to where he decided to live.
His place is in Westmount — close to the downtown core — while many players decide to live near the team's practice facility on Montreal's South Shore.
"I really like the restaurants and I really want to be around Montreal, the city. And I'm really enjoying it," he says.
Sporting family roots
Tatar comes from a sporting family.
His late father was a soccer player in his youth, who also played and coached tennis, and his mother was a gymnast.
He has two brothers — 16 and 13 years older than him — and both played hockey professionally in the top domestic league in Slovakia.
"People were chanting their names. I just found it super cool and that really motivated me to become a hockey player," Tatar says.
Tatar says he recalls spending hours playing street hockey everyday after school. By 17, his talent for the game was clear and he started playing with men in Slovakia
At 18, he was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the second round of the 2009 NHL entry draft.
Pushing for the NHL playoffs
Tatar and the Canadiens outperformed expectations last season but, in the end, just missed making the playoffs.
"It was a good season but not good enough. We still have to respect the fact that we didn't make it. We have to be humble," Tatar says.
The expectations this year are higher for both Tatar personally and for the team. Missing the playoffs, even narrowly like last season, won't been accepted by the fan base in the same way it was last season.
"It's going to be tough [to make the playoffs]. But I think we had a great camp and we are ready. Hopefully we will escape the injuries and everybody will be playing," he says.
The Montreal Canadiens open their season at Carolina on October 3. The team's home opener at the Bell Centre is against the Detroit Red Wings — the team that drafted Tatar — on October 10.