DETROIT – This past March, Hockey Prospects Center posted a Filip Zadina highlights video to YouTube with the following description:
Filip Zadina is one of the most exciting players in the QMJHL. He is a fantastic goal scorer and has great puck skills. He is arguably the most exciting Czech prospect in a while. Zadina is available in the 2018 NHL draft.
The video lists his strengths as:
- Highly dynamic offensively
- Amazing release
- Great puck skills
- Also good playmaker
His lone weakness is listed as "defensive game."
Hockey Prospect Center's video shows highlights from Zadina's year with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League). He dekes, he dazzles, he shoots, he scores, and yes he does pass the puck well, too. Overall, he appears to be a player who is good at putting himself and his teammates in quality scoring positions. In 57 games with the Mooseheads this past season he scored 44 goals and 38 assists.
That's very impressive, especially for a kid -- he'll turn 19 in November -- who hadn't played on a North American team before arriving in Halifax. Zadina climbed the ranks of the Czech U16 league, scored his way through international junior tournaments and finally made the move to North America last year.
With his offensive attributes drawing pro scouts' attention, Zadina was projected to go as high as 3rd overall in this year's NHL draft. Instead, he fell to the Red Wings at 6th. They gladly scooped him up and the fanbase has been buzzing ever since. After all, the Red Wings just shipped out one of their leading scorers, Tomas Tatar, and the rest of the team hasn't had much goal scoring to celebrate for a few years now. The prospect of adding a draft pick who can score right away is irresistible -- or is it?
The Anthony Mantha case, 2.0
The Red Wings, as a club, are known for having prospects "marinate," if you will, in the minor leagues before slotting them into the NHL lineup. Case in point is Anthony Mantha, who led the Red Wings with 24 goals this past season, his second full season with the NHL team.
Mantha's road to NHL-level production is about four or five years in the making. Remember, it was Mantha, the 20th overall pick in the 2013 draft, who scored 57 goals and another 63 assists in his final year in the QMJHL. That was after two full seasons with the QMJHL's Val d'Or Foreurs. He scored 51 points in his first season, 89 points in his second and then finished with that monster 120-point season. He was destined for NHL success.
And he's found it, but it took two full seasons in the AHL and growing pains in the NHL before Mantha could be considered a real threat to opponents. He had to find a way to use his big 6-foot-5 frame and learn what tracking down the NHL's fastest players is like. The jump from juniors to the pros isn't exactly a walk in the park.
Of course, Zadina is not Mantha, and it's not necessarily fair to compare any players, especially two players with such different backgrounds. But one thing the Red Wings might be looking for is whether Zadina can show consistent growth at another level. He only played one season in Canada juniors, so there's no way to really measure his growth at that level.
Drawing from recent experience from players such as Mantha, the Red Wings likely will start Zadina at the AHL level this season. The NHL ruled earlier this summer that he does not have to play in Halifax if he isn't on the Red Wings roster.
Red Wings announce signing of Filip Zadina to entry level deal. NHL rules that he was on loan to Halifax, so he can play in AHL next season if necessary.— Craig Custance (@CraigCustance) July 7, 2018
Zadina may be joining the team at a more advantageous time for himself. Captain Henrik Zetterberg may not be able to play the first part of the season due to a back injury, opening up a spot in Detroit's top six forwards lineup. If the Red Wings do decide to add Zadina to the NHL lineup, they probably don't want to throw him into a 3rd or 4th-line role. If that's the case, he's better off in Grand Rapids scoring goals. Zetterberg's status could mean the difference between Zadina being up this year or not.
Take a look at this projected Red Wings forward lineup for this season:
|Forward Line 1||Tyler Bertuzzi||Dylan Larkin||Anthony Mantha|
|Forward Line 2||Thomas Vanek||Frans Nielsen||Gustav Nyquist|
|Forward Line 3||Justin Abdelkader||Andreas Athanasiou||Martin Frk|
|Forward Line 4||????||Luke Glendening||Darren Helm|
With that lineup, Zadina could slot into the 3rd line with players like Athanasiou and Frk. That would be considered a scoring line, but who is tracking back? The situation coach Jeff Blashill is going to run into is whether he will have enough balance in his forward lineup between goal scorers and defensive-minded players. That's something Red Wings fans have been pining about for years, and it looks like the issue will be front-and-center once again as this seasons gets underway.
But if Zadina is as good as we all think he is, then he's in this lineup no matter what. That will speak volumes about his maturity and preparedness.
The Red Wings will start 2018 training camp on Sept. 14. The team's first preseason game is Sept. 19 when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins. The season won't start until Oct. 4 when Detroit hosts the Columbus Blue Jackets.