Here’s what Detroit Red Wings’ Filip Zadina may have unlocked while playing in Europe

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James
| Detroit Free Press

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Filip Zadina feels confident in a way he never has before, the sort of confidence that comes after proving to himself he can help a team win.

His swagger this training camp is a good sign for the Detroit Red Wings, who need their top pick in the 2018 draft to help bolster the rebuild. Zadina spent autumn playing in his native Czech Republic HC Ocelari Trinec while the pandemic delayed professional hockey in North America. He netted eight goals and set up six in 17 games, relishing every shift.

“I played on a good team with great players, good coaching staff and we are winning a lot,” he said Sunday. “So it was a good experience to get my body feeling in the game again, and I was really happy that I played the games in Czech Republic.”

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The Wings want Zadina to be strong on the puck and conscientious in the defensive zone in order to be trusted with big minutes. Playing overseas helped with that growth.

“The fact he was playing in a league that’s a hard league — the guys are heavy, they’re men, they’re strong — that was good for him,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Compete on the puck is a big factor for success for skilled forwards, especially for guys that are a little bit smaller. I think he is learning how to compete on that puck on a consistent basis and when he does it, he’s got the puck way more.”

There was concern within the organization during 2019 training camp when Zadina looked entirely too pedestrian a player for some selected at No. 6. He was sent to the minors, but called up in late November after an injury to Anthony Mantha. Zadina ended up playing 28 games with the Wings, tallying eight goals and seven assists before suffering a leg injury last January.

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Going through that experience is paying off now, too.

“I feel better than I felt my first two years and two camps,” Zadina said. “I believe I am more confident in a way I have never been before — you know, being on the puck, and especially when I was playing games in Czech Republic, it made me feel more comfortable, too, on the ice. So yeah, I am more confident and ready to go.”

Zadina, 21, whiled away the long off-season working on “everything.”

“I believe in offensive zone and around the net I am stronger and I can find the pucks and create chances for my teammates, for my linemates especially,” he said.

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Blashill has had Zadina on a line with Robby Fabbri at center and Bobby Ryan on the right wing. It’s a rare line with three forwards who all like to shoot the puck. But part of Zadina’s development is becoming  more of a give-and-go player instead of getting the puck, trying to get into an area to score and showing off his quick release. And playing with Ryan, a former 30-goal scorer, has Zadina watching and learning.

“I’m looking to see what he is doing so I can do the same stuff and be a better player,” Zadina said. “I’m trying to do my best to pass him the puck.”

It’d be a welcome change for the Wings if a line besides the Dylan Larkin-Anthony Mantha-Tyler Bertuzzi trio could be a scoring threat. Fabbri’s line certainly projects to produce offense, and Zadina’s is a big part of that. There won’t be any exhibition games for Zadina to prove he belongs in the top six, but at least there’s a scrimmage on Tuesday — and a sense of believing in himself.

“His confidence seemed to grow last year, he had a little more swagger with the puck, was a little more dynamic with the puck,” Blashill said. “That confidence that he gained last year was critical and he’s walking in this year expecting to be a guy who can grow into a go-to guy. That’s a positive for us.”

Contact Helene St. James at Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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