Detroit — The plays have been happening more frequently over the last month to six weeks, showing the completeness and competitiveness of a young hockey player who is growing his game.
And though this is about Filip Zadina, it’s not plays of the jaw-dropping variety offensively. No booming shots off one-timers or nifty passes showcasing Zadina’s playmaking ability.
You can find Zadina’s exploits with the puck on the stick on YouTube and they are impressive.
But just as impressive have been recent defensive plays.
Those might be tougher to find, but just as important.
There was a play earlier in the month, with Tampa Bay looking to clinch the game in the third period, which had Zadina backchecking vigorously, skating hard down the ice, and getting his stick on a pass to Brayden Point near the net. In doing so, he upended what looked like a sure-fire scoring chance.
It won’t generate headlines, but it was a big, big play at the time.
A couple of weeks later, again in the third period, with the Wings holding a lead against Chicago, there was Zadina with one of his best shifts of the season. He produced a scoring opportunity on one end and again nullified an opponent’s chance at the other end, never taking a moment off and creating momentum for the Wings.
That was more of a complete, 200-foot shift, and shows the two-way player Zadina could become, or is becoming.
It was impressive stuff. And as you watch the completeness of Zadina’s overall game in recent weeks — though, yes, the sluggish offense has been baffling — you can’t help but think this is a player the Wings can build around.
“I don’t want to be just a scorer,” Zadina said on a Zoom call. “I’m 21 years old and I’m just trying to learn the game and be one of the best in Detroit. That’s what I’m focusing on right now.”
As Zadina said, he’s 21. But more often Zadina sounds much older, hockey-wise, and definitely sounds like someone who has been around the game for quite some time.
There is also a devotion to winning that comes through.
“He is a competitor, man, and he wants to win,” coach Jeff Blashill said after that Chicago victory.
One of the attributes Blashill likes most about Zadina is the young players’ savvy regarding the game — Zadina’s dad Marek is an assistant coach in the Czech profressional league, and was a former junior star — and his desire to play “winning hockey.”
Basically, it’s not making detrimental, mindless plays, mostly on the defensive end, that result in opposing goals and don’t give you a chance to win.
The Wings have progressed from last season in that department. Zadina has helped, and likely will aid the cause going forward.
“He understands what winning hockey looks like,” Blashill said. “He’s not perfect and there are times he has turned the puck over and things like that. His dad is a coach and he knows what it looks like and he is trying to do everything right and he’s doing it in such a competitive manner. Ultimately that competitiveness will allow him to be a heck of a player and help us win hockey games here, the rest of the season and in the future.
“I really like him as a player, really like him as a person.”
Right from the start of training camp this season, there was growth. Zadina was stripping pucks off sticks, backchecking, winning puck battles. There was a stronger attention to detail on the defensive end.
Teammates noticed it instantly.
“From the start of camp he’s worked real hard and he wants the puck back,” said captain Dylan Larkin, Zadina’s linemate of late, about his progression on the defensive end. “You see it every week, every game; he has more confidence with the puck and we just need him to keep going.”
If there has been any slippage on the defensive end, or in any other area, Zadina has corrected it.
Part of being the son of a coach comes through in Zadina soaking up information, processing it and correcting whatever it is that needs to be fixed.
“Games where he’s done either of those, either not been hard enough on the puck or started to cheat for offense, we’ve shown him and he’s corrected it, which is a great sign for a young player,” Blashill said. “He’s very coachable that way.”
But with Zadina, Wings fans always will go to the statistics page and look at how the offensive numbers look, given Zadina’s reputation entering the league.
The 2018 first-round pick, drafted by the Wings sixth overall, was a 44-goal scorer in junior hockey and was expected to be a prolific scorer immediately.
But it hasn’t gone according to form, yet. Zadina has shown glimpses of that offensive star potential, but hasn’t been able to gain any traction.
In 41 games this season, Zadina only has five goals and 11 assists (16 points). Zadina’s 5.7 shooting percentage is about five percentage points below what you’d basically like to see from a young goal-scorer.
Some of it has been bad luck, some of it has been Zadina not converting often enough on good chances.
Zadina isn’t stressing about the offense.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” Zadina said. “I just try to do the best I can on the ice, and with Dylan (Larkin) I believe we have good chemistry going on and we’re finding each other and just can’t put the puck in the net.
“But we’re doing a good job, decent job, in the offensive zone, for sure, but it’s not going in.”
If he’s not scoring goals, Zadina is trying to still contribute with the puck.
“I would love to score goals for sure, but if I don’t get (goals), that’s why I’m there to pass the puck and find Dylan or Svech (linemate Evgeny Svechnikov), or whoever is on the ice,” Zadina said. “I feel confident with the way I’m playing lately, creating chances for them.
“I want to be a scorer or playmaker, for sure. I believe the points will come in the future. If not this season, I believe and I hope the next season. I’m trying to stay confident and stay positive and just play the game.”
That’s also another significant step forward for Zadina from a year or two ago, that offense is just one part of hockey, and a young hockey player can be a factor for a team in more than just one area.
The Wings are seeing it from Zadina this season.
“You’re not going to score every shift, you’re not going to score every game, and yet you can still have a positive impact on the game,” Blashill said. “Filip has progressed from a year ago. He’s a better hockey player.