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Photo Credit: Tom Fuller, USA TODAY Sports

Detroit or Grand Rapids: Where is Filip Zadina better suited?

The Detroit Red Wings were patient with Filip Zadina last season.

The then 19-year-old received a call-up in late February, played in exactly nine games and was sent back to Grand Rapids in order to slide his three-year entry-level deal.

It made sense at the time because not only were the Red Wings well out of a playoff spot, but by sliding his deal to the next season, the Red Wings would not have to protect him during the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft when Seattle enters the league.

This year, however, is a completely different scenario, and as many people have pointed out, playing him in 10 games and burning a year off his ELC — which Detroit opted to do — means the Red Wings are that much closer to negotiating with Zadina when he becomes a restricted free agent in 2022.

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Getting Zadina to the negotiating table sooner means the Red Wings can get him on a more team-friendly deal before he has his breakout season. The salary cap is all about maximizing value from players, and Zadina at $4 million per year is a lot more valuable than Zadina at $6 million or $7 million per year, especially if he can reach the 50- or 60-point mark.

But just because he played in 10 games this season doesn’t mean he has to stay with the Red Wings for the rest of the season. It’s up to general manager Steve Yzerman and coach Jeff Blashill to decide which league is better for his development at this point in his career.

In 15 games with the Red Wings this season, Zadina has three goals and six assists, with one power-play goal and two power-play assists. In nine games last season, he had one goal and two assists, with his one goal coming on the power play and one of his assists coming on the power play.

Through his first nine games this season, he had one goal and five assists, so he certainly improved from a production standpoint. Zadina started slow in Grand Rapids this season, but after 20 games, he had seven goals and six assists. But as Blashill and Griffins coach Ben Simon previously have stated, evaluating a player is more than just goals and assists.

From a shot share standpoint, Zadina has improved tremendously from last season, jumping from a 5 on 5 Corsi for of 34.98% to 46.31% this season. His expected GF% also has increased, from 23.11% to 49.05%. Of course, you want both of those numbers above 50%, but with less than 25 NHL games under his belt and on a defensively inept team, expectations should be tempered.

Relative to his teammates, Zadina’s Corsi for percentage is 2.72% — up from -9.73% last season — and his expected goals for percentage is 9.02% — up from -18.66%. Both of those numbers are top 10 on the team.

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So, he’s not getting dominated at 5 on 5, which is a positive sign for a rookie. And considering who he spends the majority of his ice time with — Frans Nielsen and Darren Helm — the numbers are even more impressive.

Of course, these numbers are very teammate dependent, and we want to isolate Zadina’s personal impact as much as we can when evaluating him.

So, HockeyViz‘s charts will help us do that.

Courtesy HockeyViz

As a refresher, the red areas mean Zadina is causing more shots to be taken from those areas and blue means less shots. In the offensive zone, you want a positive percentage and vice versa for the defensive zone.

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While Zadina is a negative threat in the offensive zone and a positive threat in the defensive zone, he is improving from his first nine games, which is what you want to see from a young player.

To add some context to these charts, here’s an example of Zadina’s recent play away from the puck, as he backchecks to prevent a scoring chance Sunday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

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We know what Zadina is capable with the puck, but seeing his hustle away from the puck will make a good impression with his coach. He doesn’t just wait for someone to get him the puck, he finds an opportunity to take the puck away and, in this situation, prevents a scoring chance.

Against the Florida Panthers on Saturday, Zadina showed off his passing skill, as he sauced a pass to Darren Helm, who scored the team’s first goal of the night.

Again, Zadina has been hailed as a sniper with an excellent shot, but his playmaking skills also are quite strong, and he has been able to showcase that in his limited time with the Red Wings.

Unfortunately, we don’t have isolated impact, expected goals for percentage and Corsi for percentage for his 20 games with the Griffins, but I think what’s more important here is that Zadina is improving from last season, and he continues to generate scoring chances and improve his play away from the puck.

With that being said, Detroit seems to be the optimal place for Zadina. He is getting top-six minutes producing on a somewhat consistent basis with and without the puck. The constant losing the Red Wings are enduring certainly isn’t helping Zadina, but with the Griffins in a similar position right now, sending him down to Grand Rapids doesn’t automatically solve that. The only reason to send Zadina back to Grand Rapids is if Yzerman and Blashill feel he is struggling to produce at the NHL level.

I don’t think that argument can be made.

All stats vis Natural Stat Trick unless otherwise noted.