GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Filip Zadina, decked out in a hoodie and sweat pants in the Grand Rapids Griffins locker room, was anxiously waiting his turn for media questions.
He didn’t play Friday night in a 3-2 loss to the Rockford IceHogs at Van Andel Arena, as Griffins coach Ben Simon opted to scratch the 19-year-old, citing the fact it would have been his third game in four nights, and with the Griffins traveling to Milwaukee on Saturday to face the Admirals, it could have been four games in five nights.
Not ideal for an emerging prospect when a hopeful long playoff run is in the near future.
However, despite playing two games in the past three nights and driving back to Grand Rapids from Detroit, he looked like he was ready to suit up and get back on the ice. He came back to Grand Rapids with a bit of a pep in his step.
Scoring his first NHL goal most likely contributed to that but also being in the friendly confines of the Griffins locker room, where he has called home for the past six months, no doubt was part of that, as well.
As Dorothy knows all too well, there’s no place like home.
Zadina had a goal and two assists during his nine NHL games, averaging 15:23 per game. He saw top-six minutes some nights and third-line minutes on others, most notably in his first game against the San Jose Sharks, when he saw just 10:37 of ice time.
Clearly, Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill didn’t want to throw Zadina into the deep end and pray he stayed afloat. He wanted to ease the rookie into playing at the NHL level.
It seemed to have worked, as Zadina told Wings Nation he received high praise from his coach in regards to his first NHL stint.
“They said that I did a good job and I played well, but I have to keep going here and help the team to win and help the team to make a long run in the playoffs,” Zadina said.
“I was excited to go back and see the boys and play here again. It’s going to be fun.”
— Grand Rapids Griffins (@griffinshockey) March 16, 2019
That long playoff run is Zadina’s focus now. As much as he might miss not being in the NHL, the Red Wings have been eliminated and are playing for pride and draft position for the next 11 games.
In Grand Rapids, Zadina has a purpose, and it’s not only to grow individually so he can make a case for a full-time spot on the Red Wings roster next season but to help the Griffins get a chance to play for their second Calder Cup trophy in three seasons.
Simon did not beat around the bush when he spoke about his expectations for Zadina moving forward.
“It’s good for him to get an opportunity to go up top and see what the NHL is all about,” Simon said. “I think when you get a taste of it, I think it makes you hungry for more; I think he’ll be hungry for more. Again, he’s gotta understand that he’s not a lock shoo-in to make the Detroit Red Wings next year. There’s a lot of young people that are going to be pushing for jobs next year.
“He’s gotta come down here, and he’s gotta dominate. He’s gotta make sure he picked up right where he left off and make sure that he’s an offensively threatening player. But at the same time, be responsible defensively and away from the puck, which he was before.”
That dominance offensively is what Red Wings fans have been anxiously awaiting all season. Not that Zadina’s time with the Griffins has been a letdown — he has 15 goals and 16 assists in 45 games — but everyone is ready to see that next step. The step that Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar have taken before him, where they have the opportunity to score almost at will and put the team on their back.
“He’s a great skater, super skilled, obviously,” Dennis Cholowski said of Zadina. “He’s got the potential to be a great player down the road. It’s fun playing with him. He’s got a really good shot, too. Anytime I can get him the puck, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Simon said he watched every game Zadina played in Detroit and was happy with what he saw.
“I thought he settled in nicely,” Simon said. “With those games, he probably got a little more comfortable, got a little bit more ice time, got some time on the power play up there and had a little bit of success. He’s gotta make sure he’s not getting too high with the highs and too low with the lows and make sure he’s got his head on straight when he’s playing (Saturday).”
We’ll soon see how Zadina plays in his first game in the AHL since Feb. 22. Does he take that next step toward becoming an offensive juggernaut or does he struggle to adjust?
“The time up (in Detroit) was pretty good,” Zadina said. “So glad I got the chance to play there. I was getting lots of ice time. It was great. It was a huge experience for me, and it was a pleasure for me to be there.”
Cholowski struggles with consistency
Speaking of highly touted prospects, Cholowski played his 10th game with the Griffins on Friday. He didn’t register a point, but he has five assists.
“I feel pretty good. I’m just trying to stay consistent, I guess is the biggest thing,” Cholowski said. “I thought I started off well and keep playing well. That’s really it.”
Simon said the inconsistency has been an issue for the 21-year-old.
“He was sent down here to work on his defending, and he’s got a focus to be harder to play against and ending plays quicker and being more assertive in the defensive zone,” Simon said. “Until he does that on a more consistent basis, that’s going to be his calling card to get back up. He’s got to really focus on that and really hunker down.”
A long playoff run surely will do wonders for Cholowski’s growth and confidence.