Detroit Red Wings’ Filip Zadina has most to gain from a new head coach. Here’s why

Detroit Free Press

Of all the returning players on the Detroit Red Wings, no one needs a fresh start more than Filip Zadina.

Four years have passed since he was taken No. 6 overall, a draft slot that comes with a great deal of expectations. Zadina himself stoked the excitement with a draft-night pledge that showed the personality behind the player. But the promise is still pending, and that’s where an offseason of change stands to recharge Zadina. 

Zadina spent the summer working on, as he put it, “everything I could think of. Get stronger, quicker, more explosive, stuff like that. I think I’ve done a good job. I feel good on the ice.”

It shows.

“He’s confident right now,” coach Derek Lalonde said. “He’s got some jump in his step.”

Lalonde has emphasized that players should look upon his arrival as an opportunity for a fresh start. Even the longest-tenured Wings player, Dylan Larkin, had only had one coach, Jeff Blashill, at the NHL level, and Larkin is entering his eighth season.

Zadina didn’t lack for opportunity under Blashill, seeing time on the top line last season, but the offense for which Zadina was drafted has not materialized. He scored 10 goals last season in 74 games and has 25 goals among 61 points in 160 career games. Zadina isn’t the first top-10 pick whose performance didn’t line up to his draft selection, but his lack of production stands out because on draft night he vowed to “put the puck in the net” of the teams (Montreal, Ottawa and Arizona) that passed on him after he was projected to go at No. 3. Plus, the No. 7 pick in 2018, defenseman Quinn Hughes, has 165 points in 205 games and is a cornerstone for the Vancouver Canucks.

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Wings general manager Steve Yzerman already has cut ties with 2015 first-round pick Evgeny Svechnikov and 2016 first-round pick Dennis Cholowski, but Zadina, at least, is an NHL-caliber player. The sides agreed to a three-year, $5.475 million deal in August; that gives Zadina job security, and the Wings leeway to see what he can become.

Lalonde has emphasized minimizing risky plays as he attempts to implement Yzerman’s wish that the Wings be a better team defensively. But Zadina almost plays it too safe at times, like in Friday’s exhibition game against the Washington Capitals.

“I still would like to see some risk in his game,” Lalonde said. “There was a play, we’re trying to get a second-period change, and he’s going down one-on-four and he tries a very low-percentage stick-handle to the middle of the ice and he doesn’t set his teammates up. That’s something we’ll ask him to improve on. He had a similar play in the third period, but he put a little soft chip behind the D’s feet, he wins a 50-50, before you know it, he’s got a scoring chance in the slot.

“It’s encouraging he had the play in the second, failed on it, put his teammates in a bad position. Had the same play in the third, did it correctly and he got rewarded with some offense. Hopefully little wins like that, we can build off.”

Lalonde is experimenting with chemistry, but Zadina and newcomer Dominik Kubalik have looked good in the two games they’ve played together.

“I know it’s a little thing, but Kubalik comes in to a new team, there’s a comfort level because they speak the same language, they’re buddies,” Lalonde said. “I think the comfort level has been good for them, and then they’ve had some success. They’ve fed off each other. There’s something there.”

More:Dominik Kubalik making early, favorable impression on Red Wings

Zadina is excited at the prospect of being linemates with Kubalik, and why not: With the usual caveat about health, once Andrew Copp returns the top six projects to feature him, Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, Lucas Raymond, David Perron and Jakub Vrana.

“Dominik has an excellent shot,” Zadina said. “If I would play with him, I would be the passer, passing him the puck, and he would be the shooter. So far, we’ve done a good job together.”

In addition to his usual power-play minutes, Zadina has auditioned to be part of the penalty kill, which would be a new look for him at the pro level.

“I always played penalty kill before I got to Detroit,” he said. “I’m happy about it, if I can earn a spot on the PK here.”

Zadina (6 feet, 197 pounds) was drafted for his shot, but he hasn’t been able to maneuver around down low as he did in juniors. But Zadina, who turns 23 in November, sounds like someone understanding that to get more goals, he needs to be around the net more, and needs to make better plays with the puck.

“This is my fourth year right now, so I feel more experienced,” Zadina said. “I know what I have to do. I hope that I will do my best to earn the best spot on the team I can.  It’s a fresh start. Everything is new and everybody is excited.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her latest book, On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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