Filip Zadina deserves better than the results he’s getting

Winging It In Motown

Filip Zadina has had a rough go over his first few seasons in the NHL. The young Czech forward was drafted sixth overall by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. He scored 82 points in 57 games with 44 goals in his draft year with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), and the scouts viewed him as a primarily offensive player who could play a complete game as well.

There was much to love about what he showed in his draft year and the years following in the AHL. However, during his time in the NHL, he was relatively ineffective. In 2018-19 Zadina only played nine games and scored three points. Although he shot at 13.3 percent the following season, he only scored eight goals in 28 games and totaled 15 points. In 2020-21, he scored 19 points in 49 games, and six of them were goals. His analytics, according to Evolving-Hockey, wasn’t much better than his regular box score numbers. Zadina had below a 50 percent expected goals for percentage (xGF%) in each season that I just mentioned. His goals above replacement (GAR) in two of the three were negative, and the same can be said for his expected goals above replacement (xGAR).

NHL: Calgary Flames at Detroit Red Wings

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He wasn’t the player that many expected him to be, but he was also young, so most fans, analysts, and media gave him a fair amount of leeway. Of course, there was a crowd that called him a bust because of his subpar performances, but that happens with every prospect that doesn’t become an incredible scorer immediately.

Fast forward to 2021-22, and Zadina looks far more comfortable. The trend started towards the end of last season, and it has continued so far. The problem is, even though he seems more comfortable, he’s not scoring.

Zadina is creating chances

It’s almost universally understood that Zadina is playing exceptionally well right now. My colleague Jake Rivard even put him in his article about three overperforming and underperforming Red Wings players. However, it doesn’t matter if he’s not putting pucks in the back of the net. He’s either on the receiving end of a great pass, and the goalie makes an incredible save, or one bounce here or there determines the outcome of the goal.

I mean, look at this save made on Zadina by Dustin Tokarski. It’s a great play by all involved, but the Buffalo Sabres goaltender manages to come away with the last laugh.

It’s sequences like this that have been happening all season long. I’m sure that the feeling of unluckiness or a slump, in general, is starting to weigh on Zadina quite a bit. He was pegged as this incredible goal scorer, and even though he has been doing everything correctly to earn more, he’s not getting a fair share.

On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve seen the young forward show off his gifts with goals like this one against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He clearly still has a lot to offer.

It’s not as if Zadina’s linemates have been awful either. As a trio, they have a 63.88 xGF% at 5v5, which is first among the four lines (minimum 30 minutes) for the Red Wings. Yes, that’s even higher than the line with Lucas Raymond, Dylan Larkin, and Tyler Bertuzzi. They have a 73.03 goals for percentage (GF%) as well. The expected number comes from a high amount of offensive chances. In contrast, the regular number comes from not allowing goals, or just Thomas Greiss and Alex Nedeljkovic not allowing them while this particular line is on the ice.

What does this mean for Zadina individually? Well, his expected numbers are excellent, but his actual numbers aren’t all that special. We can start with the box score, where he has six points in 16 games. Then, we can go to the analytics, where his regularized adjusted plus-minus (RAPM) chart shows a pretty significant discrepancy.

Filip Zadina RAPM Chart (16 games)

To be above the second line on the chart is extremely impressive, but ideally, the player’s goals for per 60 (GF/60) bar is there and not his expected goals for per 60 (xGF/60). The defense could use a bit of work too, but there is no need to focus on it. At this point, his scoring is a way more important issue.

The numbers continue to look awful for Zadina. In terms of GAR, he ranks 16th out of 17 players with a GAR of minus-2.4 (minimum of 150 minutes). However, he shoots up the rankings to 11th in xGAR with 0.1. It might not seem like a huge difference, but it is. It can be the difference between winning and losing games.

Is it time to panic?

The short answer is no. Absolutely not. Fortunately, hockey is a game that regression can play a significant factor. One can look at the standings up to this point and see that something isn’t right. The same thing goes for individual performances. There is a tangible improvement in his game, and that’s the most important thing right now. The goals and the assists will come in time. All it takes is a couple of bounces here and there to get the train rolling down the right track. When that comes is a mystery to everyone involved, including Zadina. The best thing that he can do right now is staying the course. He’s playing exceptionally well, and his numbers demonstrate that.

It’s also important not to get too down on him. He’s playing well, and any more pressure than what he’s probably putting on himself won’t do anything but harm. He’s a highly talented player, and he’s showcased that even through his struggles this season. Time is the solution to the problem.

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