Filip Zadina Catching On For Wings -- 'And He's Got A Whole Other Level'

This is what they envisioned when they drafted him sixth overall.

Will Burchfield
January 08, 2020 - 1:58 am
Zadina

© Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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For us, this is a new Filip Zadina. A play-making, shot-taking, game-breaking Zadina. The rookie scored the biggest goal of his young career Tuesday night to break a 3-3 tie late in the third and lift the Red Wings over the Canadiens in front of a revved-up crowd at Little Caesars Arena. For Givani Smith, this is just Zadina. 

"I'm not surprised at all," said the fellow rookie, who spent most of last season with Zadina in Grand Rapids.

It was a season of growth for Zadina, who started out slow amid huge expectations and then found his game down the stretch. And it was a necessary step toward where he is now, staking his claim to a spot in the NHL. The 20-year-old has breathed some life into Detroit's season since being called up for good last month. 

Zadina's goal on Tuesday was his fifth in the last 13 games, over which time he also has nine points. He's playing with confidence and poise, and processing the game much quicker than he did during his brief stint with the Wings last year. 

"He's got a whole nother level, too," Smith said. "You're just seeing Young Z right now." 

The future remains far away for the Wings, but moments like this are reasons for hope. It wasn't long ago -- this season, even -- that hopes for Zadina were starting to fizzle. He didn't make the team out of training camp. He was just OK upon being called up in November. And it was impossible not to notice Quinn Hughes, who fell to Vancouver one pick after Detroit took Zadina, taking the league by storm at the same time. 

Let's all take a moment to breathe. 

Zadina -- who only turned 20 in November -- should be just fine. Slowly but surely, he's catching up and catching on to the NHL game. 

"Every single minute when I'm on the ice playing against the best players in the world, I'm getting more confident, for sure," he said. "It's about the experiences, because I know I've been through it, I know I can do this, I can't do this. It's about the time on the ice." 

He was out there Tuesday night with under five minutes to go, playing on a line with Val Filppula and Adam Erne. As Erne won the puck below Montreal's goal line, Zadina found some open room in front of the net and tapped his stick on the ice for the pass. He didn't miss when it came, snapping a one-timer past the glove of Charlie Lindgren. 

It was a goalscorer's goal, and in Zadina's words, his "best goal so far." The kind of goal the Red Wings envisioned when they drafted him sixth overall. Zadina dropped to a knee and punched the air, almost caught between two celebrations, then threw himself into the glass as LCA roared like it hasn't roared all season. The crowd rejoiced again a few minutes later when Zadina was announced as the first star of the game. 

Not a bad night. 

"Yeah, I think it was one of my best moments so far," Zadina said, along with being drafted and making his NHL debut. "It's living the dream. Just need to keep going and it'll be fine."

"As you grow confidence, the trajectory of your game really goes upward," said Jeff Blashill. "So the more games he puts together like that, the more confidence he has, the more confidence we have in him, and it can be a real positive thing." 

Zadina's part of a promising crop of forwards starting to bloom in Detroit. What makes him so important is his ability to score. As Blashill mentioned Tuesday, Detroit has one of the worst shooting percentages in the NHL -- second to last, at 7.8 percent. The NHL average is closer to 10 percent. Consider his goal Sunday, when he picked an impossible corner above Corey Crawford's shoulder, and it's no surprise Zadina checks in at 13.9 percent through 19 games.

Or consider his explanation for his goal Tuesday: "I was right in front of the net, so I was waiting for a pass and it came my way and I just shoot it, ya know?" 

This is Young Z, growing before our eyes. And to the Wings' excitement, his growth is apparent up and down the ice. He's above the puck more often than he's chasing it. He's winning his battles and taking what's given. He's playing the kind of smart, efficient hockey that Blashill wants out of his team. The goals are the byproduct. 

"In the end, I'm just really happy with his overall progress, and I think he's a talented player that when he's in those spots can score," Blashill said. "I think (Grand Rapids head coach) Ben Simon and our development group have done a real good job. He's a much better player today than he was a year ago. He's done a great job, he's the first one that deserves that compliment." 

One more word on Zadina, as we know him so far. This kid's dying to win. It's almost all he talks about, even when he's asked about it himself. He knows it's been a tough few years for the Wings -- "for De-troit," as he puts it -- and he wants badly to be part of the solution. In a post-game scrum that focused almost exclusively on his goal, Zadina kept coming back to what a big night it was for the team. 

"We needed this win as a team so bad, and we did it. We played very well, so it was a huge day for us today. We deserved this win," he said. "It's awesome."

You got the feeling Tuesday, as he put a charge into LCA for the first time, he'll be part of some bigger ones in the future.