If you are disappointed that Filip Zadina hasn’t been producing, how do you think he feels? This is a player who is always enthusiastic when he scores, and is always visibly frustrated when he blows a quality opportunity. This isn’t a matter of not caring, it’s a matter of psyche at this point.
Maybe it’s the hockey media’s fault for bringing up Zadina’s infamous “fill their nets with pucks” quote again and again (I know I’m guilty of it.) Maybe it’s his fault for saying it in the first place. While I am hesitant to blame an 18-year-old for showing confidence and swagger on their draft day, it no doubt put a target on his back not only for fans of the Montreal Canadiens and other teams, but for fans of the Detroit Red Wings as well. With just 18 goals through the first 106 games of his career, there haven’t been enough pucks to make one layer in the back of the net, let alone fill it.
But make no mistake, we’re still talking about a young forward who is on the verge of his 22nd birthday. Not only is there still room for Zadina to grow and develop as a player, but he’s already doing many things right – especially the things that many of us didn’t necessarily expect of him. While it can be frustrating to justify a player’s lack of goals and points by saying “but look at their underlying stats“, this is a case where the numbers more or less tell us what’s going on here, and why you shouldn’t give up hope on this player yet.
Zadina’s Advanced Stats are Dominant
Prior to last night’s game against the Coyotes, according to Natural Stat Trick, the Red Wings only had two players with Corsi rates above 50% (meaning they’re getting the majority of the scoring chances and shots while they’re on the ice.) Those two players are Zadina and his linemate Robby Fabbri. In fact, those two, along with Pius Suter who centers their line, have formed a second line that gives the Red Wings strong results in terms of generating chances.
As an individual, Zadina is actually posting the best possession rates of his young career. According to Hockey Reference, his 50.8 Corsi-For percentage (CF%) so far this season tops the 46.7% rate he put up through 28 games during the 2019-20 season – his current best without accounting for this season. Furthermore, his relative Corsi% – a measurement that determines how much an individual player impacts his team’s share of shots and chances – is at 5.1%, meaning that he lifts the Red Wings’ possession numbers by that rate whenever he’s on the ice. To top it off, his high-danger Corsi-for percentage (the share of chances generated from high-danger areas) is a solid 53.9% – the best rate of any player who has played all 19 games for Detroit this season (per Natural Stat Trick).
The problem is that, as a unit, this line has often struggled to translate those chances into goals. When Fabbri fed Zadina in alone on Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner a few nights ago, Zadina essentially scooted the puck into Lehner’s chest despite having the space to make the goaltender move. If it’s not stuff like that, it’s Fabbri throwing passes into Zadina’s skates, or Suter going through his noticeable slump through the first dozen or so games of the season. Essentially, these players have excelled as individuals and as a line from a process standpoint, but whether it’s bad puck luck or just straight up not being able to capitalize on chances, they haven’t been getting the tangible results that we’re all looking for.
Zadina Needs Help
Acknowledging that Zadina is doing very well from a process standpoint, we can then look at what’s the missing link between good process and good production. While he has undoubtedly made mistakes early on this season (some of his shots have looked like he’s aiming at somebody in the crowd), he still shows the ability to make high-intelligence plays at both ends of the ice. His two-way game is something that not many people were expecting the develop the way it has, but he has turned himself into a player that is far from a liability in his own end. He backchecks very well, and it seems like he’s really bought in to the concept of “good defense breeds good offense.” On offense, he has already shown this season that he still has that scoring touch that made him such a highly-touted prospect in the 2018 draft class.
Realistically, Zadina is a player that isn’t going to elevate the play of the players around him. After his “complaints” about playing in the American Hockey League, it’s been made clear that this is a player that needs quality players around him to bring out the best in his game. It’s no coincidence that his shot looks a lot better when it’s coming off of a Moritz Seider pass than a Fabbri pass.
To that point, this highlights a key piece that is missing from the Red Wings’ lineup: Jakub Vrana. A Czech winger just like Zadina, Vrana was expected to spend some time playing on the same line as Zadina this season before a shoulder injury took him out early into training camp. The “Czechmates”, as people like to call them, were going to form two-thirds of a scoring second line, with Suter likely playing down the middle. In 56 even-strength minutes together last season, they outscored their opponents 4-2 despite holding a subpar CF% of 45.9%. Those numbers very well might have improved, too, with increased familiarity between the two players, as well as the Red Wings’ top line of Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi and Lucas Raymond receiving the more difficult defensive assignments.
One of the biggest developments in Zadina’s game last season was his playmaking abilities and his overall willingness to slow the game down instead of forcing things. While Fabbri and Suter are fine offensive players in their own right, neither of them can match the firepower that Vrana brings to the table. Considering Vrana isn’t supposed to be available until February at the earliest, it probably sounds a bit bleak to suggest this, but let’s wait to see how Zadina looks with a bona fide weapon like Vrana on his opposite wing before we completely write him off.
Be Patient with Zadina
Speaking of Vrana, while we know him today as a lethal forward with speed and skill to burn, he didn’t exactly light the world on fire right out of the gate. Through his first 106 games in the NHL, he had 19 goals and 39 points. Through Zadina’s first 106 games, he has 18 goals and 44 points. You don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out which stat line is better – and that’s without factoring in the fact that Vrana spent those 106 games playing middle six minutes on a Washington Capitals team that featured the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom; meanwhile, Zadina has done what he’s done while playing top six minutes with a rebuilding Red Wings team whose best player (Larkin) sparks debate about whether or not he’s actually a top line player.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about watching Zadina this season is that Lucas Raymond, at the age of 19, has shown up in the NHL is already filling nets with pucks. In a lot of ways, the young Swede represents everything that fans thought they were getting when the Red Wings called Zadina’s name at sixth overall back in 2018. Prospects and young players are not built the same, however, and development is not always linear. It can be tempting to think “let’s move this player now while there’s still value tied to his potential”, but that only makes sense if that player isn’t going to reach that potential.
While the early results this season are discouraging, too many signs point to Zadina reaching another level within his next 100 games or so. When it comes to rebuilds, the name of the game is patience: it takes time to draft and develop a winning team, and shortcuts are often more attractive in the hypothetical than they actually end up being in practice. Even if this player never becomes the top line threat he was billed as three years ago, what’s wrong with having a young, playmaking, two-way threat on your second line?
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I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.