How struggling Wings forward Filip Zadina is learning to do more with less ice time

Detroit News

Detroit — The playing time has been dwindling, the opportunities to show what Filip Zadina can do on the ice fewer and further between.

Heading into Friday’s game against Ottawa, Zadina has played below 12 minutes the last three games since returning from an illness that forced him to miss a game. He’s been below 10 minutes the last two games, cratering at 8 minutes 43 seconds Wednesday against the New York Rangers.

Zadina hasn’t had a point in his last six games. He has one goal in his last 14 games.

Right now, it appears Zadina has to give coach Jeff Blashill a reason to give Zadina more ice time.

“It’s always the chicken or the egg, and certainly from a players’ perspective, they say if you play me more I’ll produce more and from a coach’s perspective we generally say play great hockey and you’ll play more,” Blashill said. “There’s probably somewhere in between in reality.”

Zadina was playing on the top line with Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond for a spell. But when injuries and an offensive drought forced a need to shuffle lines, Blashill went back to playing Tyler Bertuzzi on the top line. With no room for Zadina in the middle two lines, that forced Zadina onto the fourth line, and lately, that’s meant fewer minutes.

“I moved Bert back to that Larkin line so that took an opportunity away, potentially,” Blashill said. “He just has to play the best hockey he can in the minutes he gets and if you do that, you’ll graduate back up (the lineup).

“They (veteran players) recognize, players who’ve been around recognize, it’s their job to ultimately demand more ice time. Sometimes with young players, it’s hard to understand, but that’s the reality.

“Filip just has to play real good hockey. The better hockey he plays, we’re trying to put the guys out there who give us our best chances to win, and if a guy plays great hockey, there’s a good chance he’ll play.”

Zadina is only 22, but the 2018 first-round draft pick (sixth overall) is beginning to catch the frustration of Red Wings’ fans who’ve been expecting more. Especially after Zadina scored eight goals in only 28 games in 2019-20 — and only has eight goals this season in 64 games (with a career-high of 20 points, only one more point than Zadina had in 49 games last season). Zadina also has a minus-28 rating this season.

There was much optimism heading into this season that Zadina would have a sort of breakthrough season, given his expanding experience and flashes of offensive potential last season.

But it’s become a frustrating, and somewhat painstaking, learning season for Zadina, who is a restricted free agent this summer.

“It’s part of the process of it, it’s not easy, it’s a hard league and sometimes it goes real smooth and even then, there are times it goes smooth in year one and that doesn’t happen in years two, three, four or five,” Blashill said.

“Sometimes it’s a grind and in his case, he hasn’t been able to necessarily come in and have the exact success that he had anticipated. Most of us who’ve been around understand it’s generally going to be hard.”

Blashill feels Zadina has to reassess and figure a way to make himself a “commodity”.

“How can I do things better than what other people do?” Blashill explained. “We’ve seen great examples at different times in Red Wings history. He’ll just have to keep working to make himself a real commodity on the hockey team.”

Fabbri update

Forward Robby Fabbri, who saw his season ended in mid-March after a torn ACL, has begun the rehab process.

There’s no definitive timeline, said Blashill, in regards to a potential return, although it appears Fabbri could be ready for the start of next season, or slightly after.

“It’s going to be a significant amount of time to come back, and the good thing for Robby is he knows what to do and how to train and get back,” said Blashill, alluding to Fabbri’s two previous knee surgeries. “You still feel real bad for him, that he’s going through this again, but sometimes that’s life.

“He has a great attitude and he’s ready to attack it and come back stronger than ever.”

Injured Wings

Blashill said forward Mitchell Stephens (lower-body) could return in this last month of the regular season, but the future of forward Carter Rowney (lower-body) looks a bit more cloudy.

Stephens hasn’t played since November 13, but has been increasing his practice workload in recent weeks.

“He’s kind of been gaining confidence and he’s skating good,” Blashill said. “He’s been in a good spot that way. We just have to get his balance (between Stephens’ good and injured leg) to where he’s not putting himself in any kind of risk for other injuries because there’s an imbalance. It’s just going to take some time that way, (but) I anticipate him playing.”

Rowney has been out since March 4, and Blashill said “there’s a decent chance Rowns will miss the remainder of the season.”

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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