It’s not like he’s dominating on the ice.
With a Corsi-percentage of just 26.1% through the Detroit Red Wings’ first two games (per Natural Stat Trick) the play has often been at the wrong end of the ice while Filip Zadina is on the ice. Currently skating on Detroit’s second line, the goal for him and the rest of his line-mates is to create and sustain offensive pressure to alleviate the offensive burden on the team’s first line. When you’re getting out-chanced by a ratio of nearly 4:1, it’s safe to say that the only thing you’re sustaining is a heart attack in your own zone.
And yet, through a meager two games – both against the Carolina Hurricanes – Zadina is already starting to capture the minds and imagination of the “Hockeytown” faithful.
The 21-year-old, who arrived in the Red Wings organization via the sixth overall selection of the 2018 draft, made a promise on his draft day to fill “nets with pucks.” He was highly-touted in his draft year for his shot; he was considered the draft class’s best pure goal-scorer outside of Andrei Svechnikov, whom the Hurricanes selected at second overall. With 44 goals through 57 games with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL, scouts projected Zadina as having the potential to regularly score 30-to-40 goals a season in the NHL.
You can plainly see those instincts in his game when he winds up for a shot on the power-play. After all, that’s exactly how he scored his first goal in the NHL back in 2019.
And yet, through the first two games of the 2020-21 season, Zadina has just two shot-attempts, with only one of them making it on goal. So what gives? Has the Red Wings’ first prospect with 40-goal potential since Anthony Mantha forgotten how to shoot? Were scouting reports overblown?
No, he’s just taking the next step in his development.
When the Red Wings sent Zadina down to play with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL during his first pro-season, the hope was that he would learn and adapt to the increased speed of professional hockey. With a streaky 35 points through 59 games, you could argue that the results were mixed. During his nine-game call-up to the Red Wings during the latter part of the 2018-19 season, you could see that he was trying to force shots through. After all, he made a promise to fill nets with pucks.
The following season – last season – Zadina began the campaign with the Griffins once again. This time was different, though. Through 21 games, he had nine goals and 16 points. While he had his games where he failed to create anything for his team, that’s hockey. Unless your last name is Crosby, McDavid or Ovechkin (among others), chances are that you’re going to have a game or two where you’re completely invisible.
Zadina’s play with the Griffins warranted another call-up to the Red Wings, this time to the tune of 28 games before he went down with an injury. This time around, he displayed a patience with the puck that he didn’t show in the previous season. He wasn’t looking to launch the puck off of his stick as soon as he got it. Instead, he wasn’t afraid to handle the puck for a second or two, slowing the game down in the process, and survey his options in the offensive zone.
Forcing plays that aren’t there and looking for the plays that are is the difference between being an offensive player and becoming an offensive force. If the first two games of the 2020-21 season are any indication, then Zadina is well on his way to becoming the latter.
Creativity & Tenacity
This season, though it’s a very small sample size, Zadina has exhibited a tenacity that can be seen as he chases down the puck, even as the opposition passes it from one player to the next. A term that came out of training camp regarding the young forward was “puck hound”; he seems hungry for the puck and isn’t afraid to attack the opposition in order to get the puck on his stick. Maybe you can attribute it to confidence, as he began the season over in his native Czech Republic where he scored 14 points through 17 games.
It’s that confidence and desire for the puck that led to the Red Wings’ first goal of the season. As you’ll see at about the :35 mark, Zadina makes a play that puts the puck on his stick, and then he finds the open man – in this case, newcomer Bobby Ryan.
After just one game, it’s not wise to draw conclusions. However, pairing Zadina with a talented veteran like Ryan may prove to be head coach Jeff Blashill’s smartest move to begin the season. Both players have strong offensive instincts and both are capable of firing it as soon as the puck reaches them. We might very well see these kinds of plays more than a couple times over the course of this season.
“He’s a pretty good player, and I love to play with him,” Zadina said of playing with Ryan. “It’s a blast for me to play with him. I’m trying to do my best to get him the puck…when he gets the puck he scores, as he did today.”
Playing with players like Ryan and center Robby Fabbri allows Zadina to get as creative with the puck as he can. While the early indication is that this line is porous defensively, all three players have a nose for the net that should allow them to play off of each other in the offensive zone. To that note, Zadina has started a whopping 81.8% of his shifts in the offensive zone. But that just makes sense, especially when you’ve got a 21-year-old that can feed guys in the slot like this:
While you’d like to see this line start getting a greater share of the offensive chances while they’re on the ice, you can’t deny the potential this line has shown. It’ll only get better with time.
Filling the Net with Pucks
Perhaps the greatest lesson that Zadina seems to have learned is that there’s more than one way to “fill the net with pucks.” A shot like his doesn’t just fade away – it’s a tool that he can always fall back on in order to create offense. After all, this is the reason he lines up in a shooting position on the team’s second power-play unit.
It’s that patience with the puck that he showed last season that earned him an extended stay in Detroit. It’s that creativity and hunger for the puck that has already put him on the radar of many fans across “Hockeytown”. Make no mistake, there are legitimate expectations for this player – anybody that goes sixth overall has to eventually show that they were worth such a high pick. Through two games, Zadina is showing that he’s not that same kid that struggled to put it together at times as an 18-year-old in Grand Rapids. He’s showing that he has NHL-level skill and the desire to put it all together.
There’s still plenty of work for him and his line-mates to do, but it’s easy to envision where this player and this line could be in another month once they’ve gotten the hang of playing with each other. Once that happens, look out NHL – Zadina is coming for your nets.
Not that we’re jumping to conclusions or anything.