Just Put Zadina On The Top Line Already

Seriously, what’s taking so long?

Through his seven game stint with the Red Wings, Filip Zadina‘s ice time has peaked at 18:16 against the Colorado Avalanche, the game where he scored his first ever NHL goal. He hasn’t come close to that again though, with his average TOI hovering just under the 15 minute mark, most of which is coming on the power play.

I understand the reasoning for starting a young prospect of Zadina’s caliber so carefully. The AHL to NHL jump is a big one and requires some adjustment. Favorable line match-ups and a positive offensive zone deployment are two things that help young players build confidence and adjust their games. Zadina would have been torn apart if he played all of his minutes against the top lines of San Jose, Colorado, or Tampa Bay.

Things have changed significantly since Zadina’s initial call-up, though. Gustav Nyquist has been traded. Mike Green has been shut down for the season. Dylan Larkin is out with a neck injury (for an undisclosed amount of time). Zadina wasn’t going to get time playing with these guys, but their presence allowed more talent to be spread through the lineup. He was playing with guys like Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Bertuzzi.

Now he’s playing with Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen.

Zadina is a shooter and he needs a smart playmaker to dish him the puck. That’s the logic behind putting him with Vanek and Nielsen. Both are veterans who think the game at a very high level. They’re smart with the puck. They assess their options and make the right choice.

The problem is that they’re slow. Today’s NHL moves at a very fast pace, mostly dictated by the young and skilled players coming into their primes. That’s the speed Zadina plays at and, for him to be successful, he needs to be played with players who can keep up with him. At this point in their careers, Vanek and Nielsen just can’t keep up.

So what would be the harm in promoting Zadina to the top line to play with Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha? He may be eaten alive by the top-end competition? He’s already being eaten alive! The Red Wings have only won a single game in the seven games that Zadina’s played in and it was a shootout. They’ve been outscored 31-14.

Zadina’s individual play isn’t reflective of that of the greater team. He has gotten better in every game. He’s fast, he’s hungry, and he’s fierce. He’s not afraid to go into the corners and fight for the puck. He’s showed off his big shot and he’s making smart decisions with the puck. Now let’s see what he can really do with quality teammates.

“Learn by doing,” said a very wise Christopher Turk in the pilot episode of the sitcom¬†Scrubs. Zadina’s learned a lot in his first seven NHL games. I want to see him stretch it even further for the last three. Put him with guys closer to his age who will play a more dangerous game with him.

The season’s over, anyways. Let’s at least have some fun with it!