Red Wings’ Zadina Hits Rock Bottom After Clearing Waivers

The Hockey Writers

There aren’t many draft day interviews that are so memorable that people bring them up five years after the fact. In Filip Zadina’s case, however, it seems like most people know exactly what he said after the Detroit Red Wings made him the sixth pick of the 2018 draft.

“I was telling my agent, if they will pass on me, I’m going to fill their nets with pucks,” Zadina said of the teams that passed on him. “I want to prove to Detroit that they make a pretty good decision.”

To this day, people across Red Wing fandom bring up this infamous quote when they talk about Zadina. They use words like cocky and arrogant to describe the 18-year-old that was eager to start scoring goals for the Red Wings and those same fans. While I wouldn’t advise holding an 18-year-old to their word on pretty much anything, this particular 18-year-old put a target on his back by essentially guaranteeing fans that the Red Wings had found their next premier goal-scorer.

Filip Zadina Detroit Red Wings
Filip Zadina, Detroit Red Wings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

You know what happened since then.

After 190 games and parts of five seasons with the Red Wings, Zadina has just 28 goals and 68 points to his credit. Nets aren’t getting filled with pucks – in fact, with only 380 shots to his name, he’s only averaging two shots per-game to this point in his career. After two seasons averaging under 15 minutes of ice time, Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman revealed that Zadina asked him through his representation to find the young winger a fresh start somewhere else.

After trying and failing to find a taker in the trade market, Yzerman hit the eject button and placed Zadina on waivers, freeing him to be taken by any team in the league essentially for free. But when noon rolled around on Tuesday, it was revealed that not a single team put in a claim for him.

Which leads us to today. Zadina is still a Red Wing, and it seems Detroit is the only NHL option available to him at this point. Where he goes from here and how he handles the next few months will go a long way towards determining what the rest of his NHL career might look like.

Zadina’s Scoring Slump

Most NHL scorers are streaky, collecting bundles of goals over a certain period of time before going an equal period of time without scoring a single goal. This is not the case with Zadina. In fact, since becoming an NHL regular with the Red Wings during the 2020-21 season, he has been far more effective as a playmaker and a back-checker than as a scorer.

Related: The Grind Line: Thoughts on Red Wings’ 2023 Draft Class

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As a shooting option, Zadina’s confidence has slowly eroded since making the jump to the NHL. After scoring on 13 percent of his shots in 2019-20, he hasn’t scored on more then 6.5 percent since then. When he is in scoring position, too often does he shoot it directly at the goaltender or send it wide – though the latter outcome isn’t as often as some might have you believe (per Moneypuck, 23.9 percent of his shots this season missed the net, a rate lower than Dylan Larkin, Robby Fabbri and Jonatan Berggren, among others.)

But fans don’t want to hear it. They were promised goals and, to this point, Zadina hasn’t delivered. Though the 23-year-old Czech has made some strides on the defensive side of the puck, he didn’t promise to “protect our net from pucks” (though maybe that developmental focus on his defensive game is part of what led to his offensive skills being dulled down.)

In his draft season, Zadina scored 44 goals in 57 games while playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. To put that into perspective, only two players had more goals in that league that season, and both were at least two years older than him. His scoring ability is what made him such a heavily sought-after prospect in the 2018 draft. His inability to score at the NHL level with any consistency has given him an identity crisis and allowed onlookers to wonder what exactly he brings to the table if he isn’t doing what he promised to do.

Now that the other 31 teams in the NHL have passed on the opportunity to add him for nothing, it’s pretty clear that this isn’t limited to the Red Wings or their fans. It seems like no one in the league outside of Yzerman has any sort of belief that there is a way forward for this player.

“I thought in the 30-ish games that he played [last season], I’ve seen growth in his game,” Yzerman said. “I don’t write his career off by any means…I think he’s got upside, and I think he can still become a valuable player in the NHL.”

What’s Next for Zadina?

After a flurry of free agent signings, Zadina looks to be on the outside looking in on the Red Wings’ lineup. Though he just passed through waivers, he would have to pass through again later this year if Detroit decides to assign him to their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate in Grand Rapids. If nothing changes between now and then, he would likely go unclaimed again, and then it would be up to him to decide if the AHL or even Europe makes sense.

Ultimately, the Red Wings and head coach Derek Lalonde have every reason to play Zadina early and often during the preseason. If he shows well and looks to be building off of the small glimmers of promise he showed last season, that opens up options for him and for the Red Wings. Perhaps he becomes a regular in Detroit’s lineup again, perhaps he raises his value enough that another team decides he’s worth taking a chance on. With two years left on his deal at a cap hit of $1.825 million, he should be easy to fit on almost any roster that would welcome him.

Either way, these options aren’t possible if he doesn’t play.

When he does play, Zadina doesn’t necessarily have to concern himself with filling nets with pucks, not at this point. Instead, he’ll need to show some assertiveness in the offensive zone and allow that draft day talent to re-enter his game. He’s a better passer today than he was then and he’s a better defender, so he certainly has the tools to make an impact without scoring goals.

But it sure would be great to see him score a few along the way. After all, it is what everyone’s been waiting for him to do.

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