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Photo Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

What to make of Filip Zadina’s latest stint with the Red Wings

You could sense things were different this time around — right from the first few shifts — and that Filip Zadina isn’t the same player he was back in February when he debuted for the Red Wings. Eight games in to his latest NHL stint and the hope he brought about on draft day is being rekindled.

Scoring a goal and adding a pair of assists on Thursday will do that. In fact, Zadina’s memorable performance against Winnipeg etched his place in the history books; according to NHL Public Relations, Zadina is the third youngest player in franchise history to register a three point game, only being topped by Steve Yzerman and Lane Lambert. Sentiments like that will certainly turn heads.

With six points in eight games overall, Red Wings management have a decision looming: Should they allow Zadina to surpass the 10 game threshold, effectively burning the first year of his entry-level contract? Depending on how you look at the situation, the answer is most likely yes.

Aside for the benefits that come with inking the Czech winger to an extension as soon as possible, the door becomes wide open for developmental options. With the progress Zadina has shown, limiting him to just the one more game in the NHL is not taking advantage of all resources.

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The questions that do remain, that aren’t so black and white, however: Does Zadina belong in the NHL on a permanent basis? Is this more of a 20-25 game thing or can he bang down the door and demand a spot for the rest of the season? Has he already done so?

At the very least, I don’t think he has banged down the door (yet). Four of his six points have come on the man-advantage and one of his even-strength assists came seconds after a powerplay expired. He’s been closer to surviving than he is thriving, as head coach Jeff Blashill has noted.

But this current version of Zadina vs. the one we saw last season, in both the NHL and AHL, is drastically improved. He’s no longer timid to receive the puck. At times, it seemed as though he felt too much pressure on having to make the right play, one that his skilled winger counterpart Anthony Mantha can make.

That is no longer the case today. The growth and evolution of his game is evident. That certainly merits a reward in the form of a longer leash.

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From watching Zadina’s development in the AHL, the expansion of his repertoire has given him more confidence to hang onto the puck. A noted goal scorer, yes, but Zadina has made incredible strides as a playmaker. Dare I say its becoming his calling card?

Filip Zadina, Grand Rapids Griffins, AHL

Filip Zadina has long been a highly touted goal scorer. However, his evolution as a playmaker since turning pro has been a pleasant surprise (Jenae Anderson/Access Hockey MI).

Coming out of juniors, Zadina received high marks for his goal scoring ability. Potting 44 goals in 57 games during his draft year helped back that up. We’ve even seen it first hand in Detroit. Both of his two NHL goals came off rockets from the right circle.

But make no mistake, Zadina is rounding out his game and transforming into a top-notch playmaker. Zadina’s vision has primarily stood out this season. That has a lot to do with two things:

  1. Confidence
  2. The game slowing down for him

Confidence is a huge thing. Typically, players who aren’t confident in their abilities and/or performance will opt for the safe dump-in or low percentage shot on net. Anything to get the puck off their stick faster.

The second key point is the game is slowing down. That is a product of experience. The more comfortable you feel each shift, the easier it is to create space and time for yourself. Zadina is hanging onto the puck longer, thus having more time to spot his teammates and anticipate the next play.

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Moving forward, the next step is being able to do so consistently at the pace of the NHL.

Plays like the ones above are coming much more frequently off the stick of Zadina than they did last year. In some sense, he’s becoming less reliant on others. Altogether, this is a firm reminder that the Halifax product still has — not that he ever lost it — top-line upside

The patience has paid off, however, the next step is to translate that talent to the NHL level. “I just want to play good hockey and earn a spot here and especially in Detroit,” Zadina told WingsNation’s Tom Mitsos back in November.

Yet, the coaching staff hasn’t exactly helped his cause over these eight games.

In terms of linemates to help ease the transition, the combinations Blashill has deployed are all over the place. Zadina has spent the most time at 5-on-5 with Darren Helm (53:01) and Valtteri Filppula (52:19), but not regularly on the same line (only 25:49 TOI with all three on the ice). Every other combination lacks a meaningful sample size, but nonetheless, the numbers aren’t mind blowing in any form.

He hasn’t been the hegemon of his line, but an inexperienced 20-year-old shouldn’t be expected too. Play driving is coming along.

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But if there is a common theme (or lack thereof), its the minimal playing time Zadina has received with Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi on the top-line. The three forwards have spent less than five total minutes together at 5-on-5. That simply speaks to a different developmental approach that Blashill is taking with Zadina. It appears Blashill is trying to ease him in and slowly adjust to the pace of the NHL. Playing with the big boys would rush the plan they’ve put together.

Now, I’m speculating on the above sentiment, but that is really the most logical explanation. Is it the right mind of thinking? Well, I don’t think one extended look could hurt. Zadina has shown enough growth from last season to warrant the opportunity. He needs to get more touches in order to understand how defenses will play him. A player like Larkin can distribute the puck much better than his fellow centermen on the roster, obviously.

And what do they have to lose? The offense already ranks dead-last in the entire league, with some breathing room at that. Worst case scenario is they don’t click and the lines get shuffled like they always have.

Its a worthwhile experiment that really checks all the boxes. Putting your prize prospect in a position to succeed, not fail? Check. Building confidence? Yup. Establishing chemistry among the building blocks of your franchise’s future? Absolutely.

The future is bright for #11, no doubt. Coincidentally, the future is quickly becoming the present.

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Time on ice information via Natural Stat Trick