Wings' Zadina scores in high-intensity taste of NHL during scrimmage

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Filip Zadina, the Red Wings' top pick of the 2018 NHL draft, watches from behind the net as his second-period shot slips behind Patrik Rybar for a score, giving Team Red a 4-2 lead.

Traverse City – He’s learning every day, and Sunday, Filip Zadina learned some more.

This was about what to expect these next couple weeks in NHL exhibition games, against men getting ready to compete at the highest level of hockey.

Zadina, the Red Wings' exciting 18-year-old winger, had an opportunity to play on a line with Andreas Athanasiou and Thomas Vanek, two talented playmakers, during Sunday’s Red and White intrasquad scrimmage.

Playing with two talented NHL players, and against a squad full of them.

Zadina scored a goal, helping the Red team to a 4-2 victory. Zadina had other scoring chances and the line had exciting moments – but for every positive there were learning moments, too, for Zadina.

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“They’re real good NHL players,” said Zadina after the scrimmage at Centre ICE Arena. “We had pretty good chances on the ice together. I appreciated I could play with them.”

Even in a scrimmage with his own teammates, Zadina noticed the size and speed and quick decision-making of NHL players on the ice

This wasn’t the prospects tournament from a week ago when Zadina was going against players his own age.

This was against, well, NHL players.

“It was different,” Zadina said. “I was getting used to playing with junior players. I’ll get experience from this game.”

Coach Jeff Blashill wanted to see how Zadina would mix on a line with a savvy passer like Vanek, and with Athanasiou’s speed.

Athanasiou, who has had a nice start to this camp, had a goal and Vanek made several dazzling passes setting up Athanasiou and Zadina, as the line was as productive as any in the scrimmage.

“They did a good job,” said Blashill, who hinted he’d probably keep the line together for an exhibition game. “Athanasiou is having an excellent camp so far. He’s competed real hard every day in practice, he’s taking tons of ownership. I’ve liked him with Vanek.

“Vanek creates scoring chances all over the place; that’s just what he does.”

Blashill has stated numerous times how Zadina’s game is more than simply goal scoring. While Zadina showed flashes of his varied game, it was still his ability to put the puck in the net Sunday that stood out.

“Zadina has consistently finished,” Blashill said. “There’s more to his game than just scoring goals. He’s been somebody that’s been billed as an excellent goal scorer and that’s what he’s done.

“That was an unreal play by Vanek and Athanasiou, but at the end of the day someone has to put it in the net – and he (Zadina) put it in the net.

“AA and Vanek controlled the puck more, but again, Filip did a good job finishing.”

Zadina wanted to get himself open and be there for either Athanasiou or Vanek.

“I was trying to skate,” Zadina said. “AA, he’s so fast. I was trying to skate with him and if I play like I did, I’m open every single time. He’s a smart guy with the puck.”

There are open spots on the roster to be won, and as long as Zadina shows he’s capable of playing at this level, he’s likely to earn a job for Opening Night.

But he’s not overthinking it or putting any extra pressure on himself.

“Just play hockey,” Zadina said. “Everybody knows what type of player I am. I’m just trying to do my job on the ice. Score some goals, or (create) chances for my linemates.

“And I’m doing well so far, but I have to do better if I want to play in the NHL. That’s why I’m here. This is the preseason game. Every single player is getting better and getting ready for the season. I’m having a good time right now with players on the ice.”

Twitter @tkulfan