Filip Zadina’s Role on the 2020-21 Red Wings

In 2018, the Detroit Red Wings drafted winger Filip Zadina with the sixth-overall pick. At the time, many considered the pick to be a bit of a steal; most projections and mock drafts had the high-volume scorer from the QMJHL going somewhere in the top five. Some had him ranked as the third-best prospect in the class.

Almost two years later, Zadina has appeared in 37 games with the Red Wings, including 28 during the 2019-20 season. Meanwhile, the native of the Czech Republic has also played in 80 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL. During his time with the Griffins, he has amassed 25 goals and 51 points. A healthy total, but mired with inconsistency.

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After receiving a call-up to the Red Wings in late Nov. 2019, Zadina remained with the team due to various injuries throughout the roster. However, the 20-year-old looked better and better as time went on, and he climbed up the lineup as a result. After posting 15 points in 28 games — good for ninth in team scoring — many believe it’s time for the young winger to join the team on a full-time basis next season.

Picking Up Where He Left Off

Zadina’s season was derailed when he fractured his ankle in early February. Prior to that, he had played at least 17 minutes in 4 games straight, with the highest total being 20:51 on Jan. 22 against the Minnesota Wild. He became a true top-six forward for a team aching for firepower.

Filip Zadina, Detroit Red Wings
Filip Zadina, Detroit Red Wings (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Contrary to last year’s nine-game cameo appearance, Zadina displayed a level of patience with the puck this season. Instead of relying too heavily on his shooting abilities, he would handle the puck and wait for shooting or passing lanes to open up. He became more of a playmaker on the right side — a welcome addition to the Red Wings’ lineup.

Just like Zadina adapted from the 2018-19 season, opposing defenses are going to adapt to him next time they see him. He was allowed too much time to hold the puck, and, generally speaking, he made them pay for it. My early guess is that he’ll face much more aggressive defense next time around, with teams knowing he’s not a one-trick pony anymore.

Draft Implications

Recent developments in how the NHL is going to determine the draft order in the midst of a suspended season suggest that the Red Wings are going to draft either first or second overall. They are going to add an impact player, and it’s very likely that that individual will see NHL ice starting next season. This affects the Red Wings’ lineup in a big way.

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In his offseason blueprint, our own Tony Wolak projected Quinton Byfield rated as the second-best prospect in the 2020 draft — joining the Red Wings as a third-line winger from the get-go. If the Red Wings were to add the top-ranked prospect Alexis Lafrenière (which they would have a 57% chance of doing so under the NHL’s current draft lottery proposition) he may be able to step into a second-line role right away. Adding a prospect of this caliber is obviously a huge boost to the Red Wings’ lineup.

Alexis Lafreniere Quinton Byfield Top Prospects Game
Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield at the 2020 Kubota CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game (CHL Images)

Accounting for Tyler Bertuzzi, Anthony Mantha and Robby Fabbri, there is only one winger spot up for grabs in the top-six. Without knowing who the Red Wings will draft, it’s easy to pencil Zadina into that empty spot. However, depending on who the team adds at the draft and how they perform from the onset, there could be a battle for positioning in the lineup (for the record, this is a sign of depth — it’s a good thing!)

Where Does He Fit?

Zadina’s draft-day projection was a top-line, play-driving winger in the vein of the Boston Bruins’ David Pastrnak. To this day, Zadina stands as one of, if not the top prospect in the Red Wings’ system due to this potential. He’s a key piece of the Red Wings’ rebuild, and helping him reach that potential is of the utmost importance to the organization.

But he’s not there yet, and he likely won’t be there starting next season. in fact, despite playing 244 minutes with the team’s top center, Dylan Larkin, the duo did not mesh well together at all. Together, they had a shared Corsi% (a measure of the amount of offensive chances a player’s team gets while they are on the ice) of just 38.8% (per Natural Stat Trick.) Both players saw their individual Corsi-rates increase when separated from each other. Perhaps this was a byproduct of unfamiliarity as well as the team’s overall struggles, but as long as Larkin holds down the top line, Zadina shouldn’t be up there.

Filip Zadina Grand Rapids Griffins
Filip Zadina, Grand Rapids Griffins (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Instead, Zadina currently fits better as a secondary option, somewhere in the middle six. This should prevent him from facing opposing teams’ top defenders, while also playing meaningful minutes in a scoring role. Two players Zadina showed some chemistry with this season were veterans Darren Helm and Valtteri Filppula. While not optimal, that trio could make for a sneaky good third line, depending on the forwards available to play the second line.

In the case of Helm, Zadina saw his Corsi% increase by a whopping 15%(!) Together, the pair had a Corsi% of 57.39%. They only played 70 minutes together, so the sample size is certainly small, but there may be something to this.

Glimpse Into the Future

One thing is for sure: the 2020-21 season represents the beginning of the rest of Zadina’s career. With two years left on his entry-level contract, the Red Wings will want him to make the transition from “future star” to present performer sooner rather than later. The duration of their rebuild is heavily contingent upon whether or not he can reach his draft-day projections.

With the Red Wings all but guaranteed to add another star prospect from this year’s draft, the fruits of the rebuild are going to take center stage. Potentially adding a player like Lafrenière or Byfield is franchise-altering. Being able to pair him up with a top-line talent like Zadina’s potential suggests will set the Red Wings up for the next 10-15 years.

The next phase of that process begins next season, and it’s up to Zadina to seize the moment. After this year’s draft, he definitely won’t be the shiniest thing in the Red Wings’ treasure chest anymore. He has all the tools to make it work and remind people why he was so highly regarded just two years ago.