Detroit Red Wings’ Filip Zadina latest example how hard it is to get it right in NHL draft

Detroit Free Press

The Filip Zadina saga is only the latest example of how incredibly hard it is to draft, even in the first round when statistically teams have a better chance of getting a star player.

Zadina landed on waivers Thursday for the second time this week, but this time the end point is the termination of his relationship with the Detroit Red Wings. The Wings shed a contract that had a $1.825 million annual salary cap hit for two more seasons; Zadina walked away from the $4.56 million salary remaining on the deal. He has made an estimated $3.6 million in the NHL, but it shows how badly he wanted a fresh start that he is willing to forfeit a guaranteed nearly $5 million.

Once he clears waivers, he is free to sign anywhere.

The Wings put Zadina on waivers Monday and then circled back when it became clear he was done with the Wings. In order for a termination to happen, the player has to agree. Through his agent, Zadina asked general manager Steve Yzerman for a fresh start a couple weeks ago, and Yzerman tried to accommodate the request via a trade. Zadina, 23, has 28 goals and 40 assists in 190 career games.

His performance certainly isn’t what was anticipated when former general manager Ken Holland drafted Zadina at No. 6 in 2018. The team’s director of amateur scouting, Tyler Wright, was in disbelief the Wings got a player projected to go as high as third overall. “Zadina at sixth for us was a little bit of a shock,” Wright said at the time. “We need to score goals. We need offensive players. He’s a guy that has the ability to win hockey games because he’s got that offensive ability. He finds a way to score in different ways. His No. 1 attribute that we think that he can bring is high-end skill.”

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But as the seasons passed, it became clear Zadina couldn’t translate the skills that made him a star in the Quebec junior league (82 points in 57 games with Halifax in his draft year). He didn’t capitalize when given chances in the top six and power play, and wasn’t physical enough to play in the bottom six.

In recent years, the Wings have cut ties with 2015 first-round pick Evgeny Svechnikov (No. 19), who also ended up on waivers and was not re-signed, and 2016 first-round pick Dennis Cholowski, who was exposed in the Seattle Kraken draft. Neither has become a regular in the NHL with another team.

The Zadina flop looks worse because the guy who went No. 7, Quinn Hughes, has emerged as a star defenseman. But as good as the Vancouver Canucks looked making that pick, three years earlier they took a defenseman named Olli Juolevi at No. 5. He might ring a small bell for Wings who remember he played eight games with Detroit in 2021-22, but Juolevi has spent most of his North American pro career in the AHL. If the Wings regret not picking Hughes, imagine how the Canucks feel passing on the guy who went right after Juolevi: Matthew Tkachuk, one of the best young players in the league.

In the 2015 draft, the Arizona Coyotes took Dylan Strome at No. 3. Eight years later he has 235 points in 354 games and is on his third NHL team; Mitch Marner went right after him and has 554 points in 507 games and trails only No. 1 overall pick Connor McDavid’s 850 points in their draft class.

Then there’s the 2017 draft: Nico Hischier, the No. 1 pick, has forged a nice career, but if the New Jersey Devils got to make that pick again, what are the odds they would have taken the guy who went fourth to the Colorado Avalanche, Cale Makar, the defenseman who in 2022 won the Stanley Cup, the Conn Smythe Trophy, and the Norris Trophy? The No. 3 pick, Miro Heiskanen, has also emerged as standout defenseman with the Dallas Stars.

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Jack Hughes was the obvious choice for the Devils when they picked first again in 2019, but wouldn’t the teams who picked second through fifth – New York Rangers (No 2, Kaapo Kakko); Chicago Blackhawks (No. 3, Kirby Dach); Colorado Avalanche (No. 4, Bowen Byram) and Los Angeles Kings (No. 5, Alex Turcotte) – all rather have taken Yzerman’s pick at No. 6, Moritz Seider, who went on to win the Calder Trophy in 2022?

It generally takes at least three years to properly evaluate draft picks. The early results on 2020 show the No. 3 pick, Tim Stützle, leading the draft class with 177 points in 210 games, and the No. 4 pick, the Wings’ Lucas Raymond, second with 102 points in 156 games. No. 1 selection Alexis Lafreniere is fourth, with 91 points in 216 games.

Guessing how a teenager will turn out is hard, even for one taken in the first round. And for all the picks the Wings have flubbed – Zadina, Svechnikov, Cholowski (and dating all the way back to 1990, when they passed on Jaromir Jagr at No. 3 and picked Keith Primeau) – they’ve gotten it right with Seider, Raymond, and 2014’s No. 15 pick Dylan Larkin (and going all the way back to 1983, taking Yzerman at No. 4).

Contact Helene St. James at 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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