GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Remember when Moritz Seider’s name was announced as the sixth pick in the 2019 NHL draft, and every Detroit Red Wings fan collectively screamed “Who!?”
While everyone and their mother questioned Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman five months ago for that pick, it continues to look better and better for Yzerman after every game the 18-year-old plays for the Red Wings’ AHL club, the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Seider had a number of impressive defensive plays in a 3-2 loss to the Milwaukee Admirals on Friday at Van Andel Arena, but one key play early in the game demonstrated his defensive awareness at such a young age.
Seider found himself all alone in the neutral zone as an Admirals forward received an outlet pass from his defenseman at the Griffins’ blue line and another forward began streaking toward the neutral zone. Seider had a choice to make: go for the aggressive pinch to cut off the transition up ice or fall back to eliminate a possible breakaway.
He chose Option B, and the result looked like a young Niklas Kronwall had suited up for the Griffins.
— HockeyTown (@DetroitRedWingz) November 23, 2019
Unfortunately, you can’t see the beginning of the play develop to see where Seider was situated on the ice, but I promise you, sitting up in the press box, I expected Seider to go for the pinch on the blue line and was initially questioning his move to fall back.
That’s probably — one of the many reasons — why Seider was picked sixth overall, and I wasn’t.
The beauty of the play is not only falling back to prevent a breakaway, but he doesn’t panic when he’s one on one with the forward. He takes the perfect angle, waits for the forward to make the first move (thank you, coach Orion), and takes the body and pushes the puck away so a teammate can collect it.
Seider isn’t afraid to get physical. He played in a professional league in Germany for two seasons before coming to North America, so he knows what it’s like playing against men as opposed to coming up through the junior ranks playing against teenagers.
“For sure, playing with pros was always nice and it helped me a lot,” Seider told Wings Nation. “I think that’s part of my game, too. I like being physical.”
The AHL doesn’t track hits, but in the four games I’ve been to this season, he’s probably averaging about two to three hits per game, and they aren’t hits for the sake of hitting someone. They are strategic hits meant to separate puck carrier from puck to disrupt an offensive play.
And Seider’s teammates have taken notice.
“I think he’s gotten better every game,” Chris Terry said. “I think probably the last 10 games, he’s been really good. He’s been physical for an 18-year-old. He’s playing like a man out there, he’s making big hits. … High expectations, sixth overall pick, it’s not easy. I think he’s found his game.”
And it’s not just 5 on 5 where Seider continues to demonstrate his defensive prowess. Coach Ben Simon had him on the ice to begin a 5 on 3 penalty kill. When Dominic Turgeon was thrown out of the faceoff circle, Seider stepped in, won the draw and helped his team kill about 20 seconds.
Simon also put Seider on the ice at the end of the game, as the Griffins pulled their goalie in an attempt to tie the game late in the third.
“It’s always nice when you get the opportunity to play in those special moments,” Seider said. “I just want to show that I can be there and I can be an impact (player).”
Simon admitted there was confusion on the bench and took fault for Seider stepping in to take the draw but was nonetheless pleased with the win.
“That’s why I’d like to start with two forwards on a 5 on 3 in case a situation like that arises,” Simon said. “Shame on me, but good for Mo for winning the draw.”
Filip Zadina joked that a position change might be in Seider’s future.
“That was pretty funny,” he said of Seider’s faceoff draw. “Probably should play forward instead of defense.”
And while Seider has continued to surpass expectations thus far in his young career, his coach said he shouldn’t be defined by his age.
“I don’t care about the age, he’s playing well,” Simon said. “Everyone keeps talking about an 18-year-old kid, he’s a good hockey player. He’s gonna take his lumps for sure, he’s going to make mistakes — no different than a 20-year pro.”
Speaking of a young Kronwall, Seider said the recently retired defenseman has been a great mentor.
“It’s been great, he’s here a lot helping me, helping the young kids,” Seider said. “It’s been fun to be around him for sure.”
Best advice Seider has received from the longtime blueliner?
“First of all, just be yourself, trust in your instincts,” he said. “I mean, we’re all here for a reason, so I think it’s just about details, details.”
Terry also has noticed the impact of having a 15-year NHL veteran coaching young defensemen.
“He’s a great guy, he’s so fresh removed from the game that he knows what it’s like in the locker room,” Terry said. “He’s a tremendous player when he played. He’s soft-spoken, very intelligent guy that I think adds a lot of value to a lot of our young D.”
Zadina scores dirty goal
While Zadina had his point streak snapped in a 5-0 loss to the Admirals on Saturday, the 19-year-old extended that point streak to six games the night before, banking a loose puck off of Admirals goalie Connor Ingram to give the Griffins a 2-1 lead.
FILIP. ZADINA. pic.twitter.com/kMJuEkZXPx
— Grand Rapids Griffins (@griffinshockey) November 23, 2019
The goal was his seventh of the season, and the Czech now has 13 points in 19 games during his sophomore campaign.
“Dirty area around the net, rebound. I’m so glad for those goals that I help the team be (ahead) for a bit. I was so glad I scored,” Zadina said.
After the Griffins’ 4-1 win against the Toronto Marlies on Nov. 8, Simon discussed how Zadina won’t always have highlight-reel goals and will need to get to the hard areas if he wants to be a consistent point producer.
It’s certainly something that was missing from his game last season.
Being picked sixth overall comes with its own set of expectations, but intentionally or not, Zadina added to those expectations by promising to fill his opponents’ nets with pucks after they passed on him in the draft. He had a slow start to this season, scoring just once in his first six games.
But Simon has preached patience with Zadina all season, and now with 12 points in his past 13 games, it appears Zadina has found a groove. But according to the man himself, that slow start didn’t waver his confidence.
“I got the same level like I had at beginning of the season,” Zadina said. “I think I was just playing my hockey, but it didn’t come, and now it’s coming. I didn’t change anything, I was patient and just playing my game.