Filip Zadina struggles in debut as Wings clip Blackhawks

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Detroit right wing Evgeny Svechnikov celebrates his winning goal in the third period.

Detroit — NHL teams like to see young players make an impact in these exhibition games and the Red Wings are seeing some of that.

But Thursday, one player they’d really like to see be impactful wasn’t in a 4-2 victory over Chicago.

Filip Zadina’s first game was easily forgotten. No shots on net in 16 minutes, 12 seconds, with one giveaway and a minus-1 rating.

Zadina has been nursing a groin injury but that didn’t slow him.

BOX SCORE: Red Wings 4, Blackhawks 2

“I cannot fault the groin, I had something happen with my groin two days before and I was kind of careful,” Zadina said. “But I have to be better for sure and help the team win — but they won anyway.

“I probably should play more quicker with the puck for sure. It surprised me a lot, I was kind of expecting a fast game, but it was faster than I thought.”

Evgeny Svechnikov scored the tie-breaking goal in the third period — on an assist from another big forward, Givani Smith — at 14:15, then Gustav Nyquist added an empty-net goal with 45 seconds left.

Chicago didn’t have close to its regular roster, but did have Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane (who scored a goal), Alex DeBrincat (Farmington Hills) and Brandon Saad, so there was some offensive firepower.

Thomas Vanek (power play) and Andreas Athanasiou opened the Wings’ scoring.

Here are some observations from the game:

Filip Zadina

Like Michael Rasmussen the evening before, every game in this preseason, every shift will be analyzed intensely by Wings fans, so excited about these first-round draft picks.

Rasmussen started slow Wednesday against Pittsburgh but got better as the game went along.

Zadina started slow against the Blackhawks — and never really distinguished himself.

“It’s his first pro game and that’s a real lineup for your first pro game (Chicago had), especially up front,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “He’s a smart player and he’ll figure it out. He has to figure out space, and there’s not much space out there. There’s way more space in juniors.

“It’s just a process of figuring it out and some guys do it real fast and others, it takes some time.”

There are six more exhibition games, so there’s plenty of time for Zadina to figure it out.

“You can’t judge anyone on this,” said Vanek, Zadina’s linemate. “His effort was good and that’s what you can control. He’ll get better just like I will and the next guy.

“Five-on-five was tough today. My hands weren’t good today, I tried looking for him but it kept bouncing off the stick.”

Andreas Athanasiou

Is the exhibition season worth much? Mostly, no. When the season begins for real on Oct. 4 all of these glorified scrimmages are long, long forgotten.

And thankfully so.

But Athanasiou has had a fine training camp, and in his first exhibition game Thursday, scored a typical Athanasiou goal highlighting his speed, skating and offensive ability.

Athanasiou is another one of the Wings who stands to benefit from Henrik Zetterberg's absence on the roster. If Athanasiou doesn’t capitalize on this opportunity, it’s basically on him. Athanasiou is going to play center, where he appears more comfortable and is his natural position. He’s likely to see more ice time, which he dearly craves.

“Double-A was dynamic,” Blashill said. “He did a good job on capitalizing on loose pucks. Great pass by Nyquist on (Athanasiou’s goal) but he was dynamic.”

Thomas Vanek

A lot of fans — many, many on July 1, to be sure — weren’t thrilled with Vanek re-signing with the Wings.

Many weren't happy that Vanek would likely take ice time from a younger prospect.

We’ll see about all that. But one thing that’s undeniable — even going back to Vanek’s first one-season go-around with the Wings — is the guy is dangerous, and so skilled, offensively.

His redirected goal on the power play was Vanek at his best, so deft, instinctive, and capable of the unexpected.

“Nyke (Nyquist) and I had a little chemistry from two years ago,” Vanek said. “It wasn’t a set play but he remembered from two years ago it was something we can do and it was a perfect pass from him and I got the puck on net.”

Libor Sulak

Interesting hockey player, this gangly defenseman.

His night wasn’t perfect, Sulak can occasionally use his gift of skating to skate in troublesome situations, but he made some positive plays.

But Sulak had two assists Thursday, which amounts to a nice evening, along with four shots in almost 20 minutes of ice time.

“I like him a lot,” Vanek said. “I didn’t know much about him. He’s real good, the way he skates and the way he battles, he’s not afraid to take shots or jump into the play. He was one of our best players.

“I wish I had a quarter of his speed. He was great.  Hopefully he can keep this up and definitely help our team.”

The skating is a strength. His positioning is better, but his overall defensive game, though still a work in progress, isn’t a complete minus.

“The individual 1-on-1 defense is fine,” Blashill said. “It’s sorting situations, reading when it’s just not a 1-on-1 game, just reading the systems a little bit and making sure he sorts that out.

“A couple of times, and he wasn’t alone in this, he was a little bit careless with the puck. He has to make sure never to swing it around to nobody. But he certainly has ability and he has some real physical tools.

“There’s an element to his game that he’s excellent at and that’s putting the other team on its heels.”

Sulak, 24, could be best suited to be the Wings’ seventh defenseman if nobody out of the Sulak, Dennis Cholowski, Filip Hronek and Joe Hicketts foursome scores a technical knockout and beats out one of the Wings’ top six defensemen for playing time.

Those other younger defensemen need regular playing time.

Evgeny Svechnikov/Givani Smith

These are big, strong forwards. Power forwards, if you will, in the grooming.

Seeing them on the same line on the winning goal, making an impact with their size, outmuscling some people, it was a promising sight for the future.

Svechnikov has been effective around the net, which is a good sign for him.

“He worked hard in the summer on sprinting off the ice to gain that extra step, which is something he needs to do in order to take the next step,” Blashill said. “He had a real solid impact tonight.”