At the start of the 2018-19 season, many (myself included) thought that Filip Zadina was ready for the NHL with his big shot and hungry play. This made the decision to have the 6th overall pick begin the season in the AHL contentious, but it was ultimately the right one.
Zadina took some time to adjust to the game at the professional level, but eventually became one of the most exciting players on the Grand Rapids Griffins roster. He’s currently tied for 3rd on the team in goals with 15 and 4th on the team in points with 31. He’s played in 45 AHL games so far.
His play has been so good that it earned him a call-up just before the trade deadline. Zadina’s first NHL game was a 5-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks. He played in the next two games against the Montreal Canadiens and Arizona Coyotes – two more losses.
Zadina’s play wasn’t really reflective of the rest of the team, though. In him, we have a (very) young player who is bound to play through some nerves and make some mistakes. That’s okay. This stint with the Red Wings is very much a learning experience for him to get his feet wet in the NHL. Don’t expect him to play more than 9 games, at which point he will be returned to the AHL for a (hopefully) long playoff run with Grand Rapids.
Small sample size aside, here are three takeaways from Zadina’s three game NHL debut.
SHOOT, SHOOT, SHOOT
When they originally called him up, Jeff Blashill’s direction was to just shoot the puck. And, well, he’s trying.
Zadina only has two shots over his three games, but seven shot attempts. Looking at his shot attempts on a per-60 basis, he has the 3rd highest Corsi-For-Per-60 among active Red Wings in that time span. He hasn’t been getting that much ice time, but he’s trying to put the puck on net when he’s out there.
Just from the eye test, Zadina still has some adjusting to make to the speed of the game at the NHL level. A few times he was streaking into the zone or received a pass and just threw it towards the net. He looked unsure of when he was going to be challenged and just wanted to get the puck off his stick.
This will come with experience, but once he slows the game down and learns to control the gap between him and the opposing defenseman, it will give him much more time to set-up and put his shot on net.
He is, after all, one of the better U20 shooters in the AHL.
THE RED WINGS LACK TOP-END PLAYMAKING
Here’s the thing about Zadina being told to just shoot the puck, though: he needs somebody to feed him.
It’s a situation like this that shines a light on the Red Wings lack of top-end playmaking. Zadina was initially supposed to play with fellow Czech Thomas Vanek, but Vanek has been out with a hip-flexor injury. And, let’s be honest, Vanek isn’t the player he once was.
Dylan Larkin is maybe the only truly high-end playmaker the Red Wings now employ with the departure of Gustav Nyquist. The issue with putting him on Larkin’s wing though is that Larkin plays heavy minutes against top-end competition. Zadina isn’t at that level yet, but he’s being given the chance to get there.
Which brings me to my next point:
HE’S BEING GIVEN EVERY CHANCE TO SUCCEED
Say what you will about Jeff Blashill’s coaching tactics, but he is giving Zadina every chance to succeed in this nine game trial.
His time on ice has gone up every game, from 10:38 in game one to 15:30 in game two; he’s being played on lines with quality players like Andreas Athanasiou (19 minutes) and Tyler Bertuzzi (11 minutes); and he’s getting time on the power play, playing the half-boards so that Green and Vanek can feed his big shot. He’s also being deployed heavily in the offensive zone, per NaturalStatTrick.
This is how you carefully warm a player up to the NHL. Soon, when the pucks start hitting the net and then going into it, Zadina will build some more confidence and he can be given more ice time against harder competition. For an initial nine game stint, though, he needs the opportunity to be successful.
That’s exactly what Jeff Blashill is giving him.
The Red Wings have something very special in Filip Zadina. He is fiercely competitive and incredibly fearless. The game at the NHL level is still moving a little fast for him, but he’s slowly learning and catching up.
A good playoff run with Grand Rapids and a strong Summer in the gym will be great for him. He should be a Red Wing next year and making good on his post-draft quote – filling everyone’s nets with pucks.