This Detroit Red Wings season has been a prime demonstration of why it’s vital for rebuilding teams to hit on their first-round selections.
Those picks, especially when they fall within the top 10, grant access to the most talented young players in the game. Moritz Seider, the No. 6 pick in 2019, and Lucas Raymond, the No. 4 pick in 2020, have made the Wings better, both garnering consideration for rookie of the year.
But high draft picks do not come with a guarantee, and that’s the topic of this mailbag. Reader Matt Mitchell wrote, “When do we go ahead and call Filip Zadina a bust? He’s been given every opportunity and every chance to succeed and yet we’re still waiting for ‘nets to be filled with pucks.’ He has (eight) measly goals, loses puck battles too frequently and lacks solid judgement (takes a bad penalty vs Lightning and they score). What do they do with Zadina?”
BOUNCING BACK FROM FRIDAY: Why it matters that reeling Red Wings find joy in their game again
FINISHING STRONG? What the final month will tell us about Wings’ 2023 playoff hopes
The Wings have a home-and-home with the Ottawa Senators this weekend, a timely opportunity to address Zadina. He famously said, the night he was drafted No. 6 in 2018, that he would “fill the nets with pucks” of the teams who passed on him after he was projected to go as high as third overall. Those who passed on Zadina were the Montreal Canadiens at No. 3 (Jesperi Kotkaniemi, now with Carolina); the Senators at No. 4 (Brady Tkachuk) and the Arizona Coyotes (Barret Hayton). Zadina had 44 goals and 38 assists in 57 games with Halifax in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in his draft year and was known for his shot.
Nearly four years later, Zadina has 23 goals, 34 assists and a minus-51 rating in 151 career NHL games. Zadina is only 22, but there’s enough of a body of work to indicate he isn’t going to be a top producer. The damning part for the Wings is the pick immediately after Zadina, defenseman Quinn Hughes, has become a major part of the rebuild for the Vancouver Canucks, with 150 points in 194 games. (It’s not always that easy, though; two years earlier, the Canucks drafted defenseman Olli Juolevi at No. 5, and he’s now trying to revive his career with the Wings after failing to catch on with the Canucks and Florida Panthers.)
Wings coach Jeff Blashill, who was a scout as a college assistant, shared his thoughts on evaluating young players.
“Everybody has a résumé,” Blashill said. “Part of that résumé might be where they were picked or what they did in juniors or college. That’s part of your résumé. When you get picked in certain areas, there’s different expectations that may give guys more chances at times, if you’re picked higher, because of the belief of what was seen as they’ve gone through the draft and the potential that a player might have.
“Ultimately every player needs their potential to become reality, and you judge based on that. Ultimately as we judge players, we try and stay patient, we try to evaluate what positions they’re in, and over time, we give them more opportunity based on how they’re playing.”
Zadina began this season on a line with Pius Suter and Robby Fabbri, and stayed on the second line in various permutations for 20 games. In that span, Zadina produced three goals and four assists. He was a healthy scratch Jan. 4, at which point Zadina had four goals and six assists in 32 games. In early February, Zadina spent six games on the top line with Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond and produced two goals.
Zadina’s playing time has fluctuated, reaching nearly 19 minutes on Feb. 26, when he was on a line with Larkin and Raymond and produced no points, and dropping below nine minutes on March 30. His average is approximately 14 minutes, with nearly two minutes of that coming on power plays.
The hope at the draft was that Zadina would be a top-line winger and score upwards of 30 goals a season. Now it’s looking like he’ll be a third-line winger who’ll score in the 12-goal range.
Zadina isn’t the first prolific scorer in juniors to struggle in the NHL, but he was a No. 6 pick, and he hasn’t moved the needle on the Wings’ rebuild. It’s bad enough that their first-round picks from 2015 (Evgeny Svechnikov, No. 19) and 2016 (Dennis Cholowski, No. 20) washed out of the system, but neither Zadina nor 2017’s first-round pick, Michael Rasmussen, taken at No. 9, have performed to the expectations befitting top-10 picks. It has made the contributions of Seider and Raymond all the more noticeable for the impacts they’ve had already in their first year.
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.com. 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.