He is surrounded by people who want him to succeed, who try to stoke the embers of his confidence.
For all the encouraging story lines to come out of the first half of the season for the Detroit Red Wings, they need Filip Zadina to make himself part of the second-half headlines.
Former first-round picks Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider are a big part of the Wings’ improvement, but Zadina, a top-10 pick from 2018, is not. He hasn’t scored a goal since Nov. 30, and has just four goals among 11 points, and a minus-17 rating that ranks worst among team forwards. He heads into Wednesday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks at Little Caesars Arena with one point in his last 12 games.
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Zadina’s statistics don’t measure up to his status as the No. 6 pick in 2018, and that is just one of the areas teammates bring up when they offer support. It’s something Sam Gagner, 32, can speak to with accuracy, having been drafted by the Oilers at No. 6 in 2007.
“You put pressure on yourself to produce, you put pressure on yourself to try and help the team turn around and win,” Gagner said. “It’s a lot to handle if you care about the game, which Z really does. You just try and ease his pressure, try and help with his confidence. The mental side of the game is so important. You see how hard he works and the amount of effort he puts into becoming a better player, so you just try and help him any way you can. A lot of guys have had conversations with him. He’s going to continue to develop and be a really good player in this league.”
So the Wings certainly hope. Zadina, 22, was the last major draft pick made by former general manager Ken Holland and his scouting staff. The top 10 picks that have come after Zadina — Seider at No. 6 in 2019, Raymond at No. 4 in 2020 — rank in the top four in scoring on the Wings. Zadina ranks 12th.
Zadina was on the second line with Pius Suter and Robby Fabbri the first 20 games of the season, and then played either with Sam Gagner and Carter Rowney or with Michael Rasmussen and Adam Erne. Zadina was back on the second line as recently as Jan. 13, but the last four games Tyler Bertuzzi has played with Suter and Fabbri, to great success.
Zadina is a skilled player, but skilled players still have to warrant their ice time.
“He had a lot of opportunity in the top six early,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “I don’t think the line was set up necessarily to have the best success in the sense that it was three guys that we thought deserved to be in the top six, but Fabs and Z are shooters, they’re all a little slight, but we were trying to give them the opportunity. Since then, we’ve had him with Ras, or with Rowney. He’s actually created in those situations, when he’s been with guys who are a little bit bigger and harder and I think he ends up with more puck touches then.
“We’re very cognizant of making sure that, with our young players, that we’re trying to do what’s best for their development, but really what you’re trying to doing is put guys out there that you think give you your best chance to win, and then guys have to earn those spots.”
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Zadina (6 feet, 197 pounds) was known for his shot in juniors, but he hasn’t been able to establish it at the NHL level. He likes one-timers from the right circle, especially on the power play, but opponents block the lane. The Wings are encouraging him to go the net more, to expand how his game.
“You look at his 5-on-5 game, early in the year he had a ton of scoring chances and they didn’t go in,” Gagner said. “You’ve seen other players go through things like that. I mean, I remember early in my career hearing that about Johan Franzen, and all of a sudden he starts scoring goals at a really high rate just because he gets that feel around the net and that confidence. Z just needs to stay with it and the floodgates will open for him.”
Zadina is still young, and it is his status as a top-six pick that makes his lack of production so glaring. At his best, he is attacking with the puck, has a give-and-go rapport, and is getting shots off in the slot area. There’s been an emphasis to get to the slot more, and to develop a quicker release. Zadina was a healthy scratch Jan. 4, but mostly he’s kept being put in position to score. He averages two minutes per game on the power play, fifth-most among forwards.
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“Part of it is accountability, part of it is putting guys in the right spots, and part of it is us also being cognizant that confidence matters and can re-ignite him,” Blashill said. “We’ll see. Is there better hockey in him? Yeah, probably. No, I know there is. And is there more production? Yeah, there is, for sure. So we’re going to keep grinding.”
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.