When a player with high expectations underachieves, common thinking is that a change of scenery may offer a chance to reboot.
In Filip Zadina’s case, the change of scenery isn’t location but elocution: It’ll be the voice of new Detroit Red Wings head coach Derek Lalonde who tries to find out if there’s more to Zadina than he has shown in three disappointing seasons.
“Each kid has a different ‘why,’ what makes them tick,” Lalonde told the Free Press. “The beauty of a coaching change is, it’s a new voice and a fresh start. No matter what, everyone will have a fresh start. Sometimes just a reset is healthy for a guy like that.”
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When prior management drafted Zadina at No. 6 in 2018, he was viewed as a potential game-changer because of his shot. Then-general manager Ken Holland and his scouting staff were thrilled Zadina was available at the spot, because he’d been projected to go as high as third. Zadina stoked the hype when he declared on draft night that he’d “fill the net with pucks” of the teams who passed on him.
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of swagger, but those words fed into expectations, and have stood out against his inability to deliver. Zadina has 25 goals among 61 points in 160 career games; his 0.32 points-per-game average ranks 10th in his draft class. (The player taken seventh overall by the Vancouver Canucks, defenseman Quinn Hughes, leads the 2018 class with a .089 points-per-game average, just edging out No. 2 overall Andrei Svechnikov’s 0.88.)
It isn’t for lack of opportunity. Former head coach Jeff Blashill gave Zadina multiple chances to play and he was a regular on the power play, but the best Zadina did was reach 10 goals last season, and that took 74 games.
“A reset will be start for him, and then it will be my job to get the most out of him,” Lalonde said. “It starts with building some trust, ad then to try to get the most out of him.”
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Zadina (6 feet, 197 pounds) has good examples in Robby Fabbri (5-11, 183) and Tyler Bertuzzi (6-1, 197) of forwards who have figured out that being around the net leads to goals. Zadina regularly shows off his shot on the power play when he rips a one-timer from the right circle, but his power play shot percentage (12.1%) shows opponents know that’s his preference, and they take away his lane.
Zadina is four years removed from his draft — that’s enough time to warrant concern that he won’t be more of an impact player, but he’s also young enough (22) that there’s leeway for hope, fueled by the arrival of a new coach. Zadina did show chemistry last season on a line with Pius Suter and Jakub Vrana, but injuries and illness prevented much of a real sample size.
Lalonde, hired June 30, hasn’t had much time to study video yet, but the 2021 pandemic-impacted schedule meant he has seen a great deal of Zadina while an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Zadina has been at his most productive against Lalonde’s former team: In 14 career games against the Lightning, Zadina has a goal and eight assists. (He’s played 12 times against the Columbus Blue Jackets and only has one point, and has four points in 12 games against the Florida Panthers).
“I’ve seen him play a ton, but I haven’t done enough on video yet, and that’s on my to-do list,” Lalonde said. “I want to get a little better feel for all the players.”
Lalonde offers a chance for Zadina to reset. He hasn’t been what the Wings hoped for, but a new voice may help.
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.