Filip Zadina may start the Detroit Red Wings‘ next game on the top line, but it’s as much a reflection on Vladislav Namestnikov as it is on Zadina.
And Jakub Vrana could soon make it moot.
The Wings practiced Tuesday and then booked it for Philadelphia, where they begin their post-All-Star break schedule Wednesday. Zadina, the beleaguered former first-round pick, skated with Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond, seemingly a nod to Zadina going into the break with three points in four games. Zadina has played better, but the change was spurred by wanting Namestnikov back with Michael Rasmussen and Adam Erne.
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“I want to give Ras and Erne a line that can have an identity, and I thought with Vladdy, they had that,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “They can be a line that can go out and play in a lot of different situations, which will help spread the minutes out a little bit.
“As we looked at it, there’s multiple guys that maybe have opportunity to get that spot on Larkin’s line, and we wanted to see Filip Zadina there. We’ll look at the practice tape and see if we want to stay with it. We might just give different guys chances during games.”
Tyler Bertuzzi has meshed so nicely with Pius Suter and Robby Fabbri, there’s little sense in messing with that group unless necessary. Joe Veleno might get a look on the top line, but he was with Gemel Smith and Sam Gagner at practice.
Zadina played in the top six the first 20 games of the season, but as the points didn’t come, his opportunity dwindled. There’s a balance to be found: Zadina needs to play with skilled players, but he also needs to earn his minutes. This season has been such a struggle for Zadina (five goals, nine assists, minus-23 in 45 games) but there were encouraging signs before the break.
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“He’s hard on himself and so sometimes that eats away at your confidence,” Blashill said. “In the last four games, he’s played a couple good games where I thought his confidence looked higher. In order to play on that line, he can’t give up chances. You have to be good defensively. And then you have to help the offense in a lot of different ways, and one way is going to the net. That’s an area he didn’t grow up doing and a lot of guys have to learn how important it is to get to the net.
“I don’t know if Viktor Arvidsson always did that, the right winger from LA, but he does it, and he’s a small guy, and he’s really good at the net-front. That can add a huge element. That’s an area he’s got to make sure he gets to if he’s going to play on that line.”
Zadina’s shot was a big reason why he was drafted at No. 6 in 2018, but that hasn’t clicked for him in the NHL. All he has to do is look at teammates such as Bertuzzi, Fabbri and Suter for examples of why it pays to go to the net.
“Fabs would be a good model, for sure,” Blashill said. “They’re both slight. They’re not big, big men. Bert’s got a little more to him. But they go to the net. At the end of the day, that’s where all the goals are scored. If you want to get consistent point production, you’ve got to get to the cage. It’s just the reality of it. The more we get to the cage, the more consistent point production we’ll have as a team and as individuals.”
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On the subject of point production, Vrana took part in part of practice. He’s still in a non-contact sweater, but that could change pending a mid-February checkup with the doctor who performed Vrana’s shoulder surgery. It’ll be a challenge to assimilate as games intensity because teams are jockeying for playoff positioning, but Vrana made a quite an impression when he came in at last year’s trade deadline and produced eight goals and three assists in 11 games.
“That’s what is in my head right now, that is what I am focusing on,” Vrana said. “It is a mental game and I’m a confident player and happy to get there. I’m just looking forward to get back out there and push for a playoff spot.”
Once he’s cleared by his surgeon, Vrana would be an easy choice to play with Larkin and Raymond.
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.