Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill says he's a "really big fan" of Vancouver rookie scoring sensation Elias Pettersson Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
Detroit — If you keep tabs on the Grand Rapids Griffins, you probably noticed an interesting development in Sunday’s 8-4 victory over Cleveland.
Filip Zadina scored two goals in the game, igniting discussion on social media about when, or how quickly, the Red Wings’ No. 6 pick overall in June’s draft will arrive in the NHL.
Judging by coach Jeff Blashill’s comments after Monday’s practice, don’t hold your breath.
“Honestly, he has a long way to go,” said Blashill, which isn’t surprising when you look at Zadina’s body of work in the AHL.
Zadina has four goals on the season, having scored two goals in two different games — meaning he hasn’t scored in the other nine.
He has seven points in 11 games (four goals, three assists), and has a team-worse minus-6 rating.
It’s safe to say Zadina, 18, is learning the professional game isn’t easy.
“Just the maturity part of the game, to make sure when he’s not scoring that he’s still a real complete player,” Blashill said of what Zadina needs to work on. “He hasn’t scored tons down there, so when you don’t score, all of a sudden you start cheating for offense, similar to what happened through that stretch in Montreal and Boston (for the Wings).
“A young player has to realize he has to play the right way, and points will come from playing good defense.
“I just think it’s a maturation process, and we’re certainly in no rush as an organization. We want to do what’s best for him and his development, and right now that’s to stay down there and keep working.”
As expected, the adjustment to pro hockey hasn’t been smooth for Zadina — just as it hasn’t for the vast majority of June’s first-round picks who’ve returned to junior hockey after not sticking with their NHL teams (the Wings’ other first-round pick, Joe Veleno, is playing in the Quebec junior league).
Zadina's loan from his European team to junior hockey created a loophole where he was able to be sent to the AHL.
“It’s a bigger step going from junior to the American League than it is to go from the AHL to the NHL,” Blashill said. “I’ll say it, argue it, with anybody. Most people who’ve gone through that will admit that.
“On a nightly basis there’s more players like you,” Blashill said of a young player’s entrance to the AHL. “When you’re better than everyone else, which as you start to matriculate in major junior or college, or whatever level, and you’re suddenly much better than the people around you and you can play less than 100 percent and maybe cheat a little bit and have success, as you get into the American League, you’re not that much better than people. There’s really, really good players there who might be missing one thing or another, or just a little young or guys that were in the NHL and are back, and they’re real good players.
“It’s similar to what you see in the NHL, where every night the teams are pretty even and players are pretty even and you have to find a way to create a little bit of space and it’s hard as it can be to do it.”
The Wings often have kept players in the minor leagues until they are excessively ready for the NHL — think Gustav Nyquist, Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi. That seems to be the plan with Zadina.
There’s certainly no target date for Zadina to come up, and until he shows a more compete game, that is certainly the case.
“Certainly (general manager) Ken (Holland) would make the ultimate decision, but for me personally, until he’s dominating the level he’s at, there’s no reason for a young guy to come up when he’s not dominating that level,” Blashill said. “We’re trying hard not to do that because generally that doesn’t work out. Once you’re dominating that level — we like to use the words ‘look like you don’t belong’ — once those guys go watch him, or I go watch him, and he doesn’t look like he belongs and he’s that much better than everyone else, that’s when he should come up.
“When is that? Who knows. That’s just the question you can’t answer.”
Frans Nielsen practiced Monday, and though Blashill said Nielsen hadn’t received clearance yet, the feeling was Nielsen would return to the lineup Tuesday against Vancouver. Nielsen had missed the last three games.
Conversely, Andreas Athanasiou only skated on his own before practice, and Blashill was hoping an Athanasiou return later in the week.
…Nyquist was a linemate of Vancouver star rookie Elias Pettersson at the world championships, so he got an up-close look at the odds-on favorite for Rookie of the Year.
“Smart player, a lot of skill, he’s had a great start,” said Nyquist of Pettersson, who has 15 points (nine goals, six assists) in nine games this season. “He had a good resume, with the way he played in Sweden (MVP of the Swedish pro league), there are still a lot of good players over there, and if you can dominate that league … but it’s impressive what he’s done here so far.”
Canucks at Red Wings
Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit/97.1 FM
Outlook: The Canucks (9-6-0, 18 points) have been a mild surprise in the West, and have won three consecutive games. … C Elias Pettersson (15 points) and RW Brock Boeser (four goals, seven assists) could form a potent offensive duo for many years.