Tampa, Fla. — Nikita Kucherov is leading the NHL in scoring, is a top candidate to win the league’s most valuable player award, and is considered a player you can build a franchise around.
So, if Filip Zadina becomes half the player the Kucherov is, the Red Wings will be more than pleased.
Some scouting analysts, before last June’s draft, made the case that Kucherov was a comparable for the young Zadina. Kucherov and the Tampa Bay Lightning play host to Zadina and the Red Wings on Saturday night.
A wing like Kucherov, Patrick Kane (Chicago) and Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary) is the newer type of wing in the NHL who can control the game with the puck on his stick, and is almost like a second center on the ice.
Zadina has shown some of that playmaking ability. But coach Jeff Blashill sees Zadina as a cross between that type of wing, and the more traditional winger who waits for a playmaking center to get him the puck and can unleash a powerful shot.
“There’s a lot of different types of wingers,” Blashill said. “There are guys who are scoring wingers who need a center to constantly get them the puck to score, and then there’s been an influx of wingers, like Patrick Kane, Kucherov, Johnny Gaudreau, who almost control the game like a center. They have the puck on the stick a bunch and control the game like a center.
“I don’t know if he’s (Zadina) to that level of controlling the game and having the puck on the stick the whole time, but I’m hoping he’s somewhere in between just a pure scoring winger and guy who can control the puck and can make plays and have an effect that a real good center would have.
“Kucherov’s hockey smarts are as good as anybody’s in the league. He knows how to find areas and has unreal patience and poise. If he (Zadina) becomes anywhere near the player Kucherov is, we’d have a heck of a player.”
Zadina was playing in his sixth game Saturday, so he has three more games before he’ll be returned to Grand Rapids to avoid using one year of his entry-level contract.
Blashill has been pleased with the progress he’s seen from Zadina at the NHL level.
“Game by game over the last three games he’s looked more dangerous,” Blashill said. “That’s the biggest thing for me; I want him to look dangerous offensively.
“He’s a pretty complete player for a young, young guy.”
Defenseman Madison Bowey likely will get a good opportunity to show his abilities now that Mike Green (virus) is done for the season.
Bowey, acquired in the deal that sent defenseman Nick Jensen to Washington at the trade deadline, has played four games, including earning his first assist in the victory Thursday over the New York Rangers.
“It felt good,” Bowey said of getting the first point. “The coolest thing was that it was involved in a big win. That was my first one with the guys (a victory), so it was definitely great.
“It’s obviously tough when you have such a great defenseman like that go down in this part of the season. For myself and Fil (Filip Hronek), it’s a chance to step up and get us a chance to show what we can do.”
Blashill has seen progress in Bowey as his time with the Wings has increased.
“He’s gotten better every game,” Blashill said. “He’s moved in the right direction; part of that is familiarity. In how we play, getting more comfortable, and part of that is just confidence.
“He hadn’t played a ton and now he’s playing a little more.”
The same lineup that played against the Rangers likely will play against Tampa Bay, as Blashill said everyone was available and there were no injury issues.
…The Lightning came into Saturday’s game with the NHL’s best record (51-13-4), along having the top-ranked power play (29 percent) and penalty kill (85.6 percent).
“It speaks to why their record is where it is,” Blashill said of the having the NHL’s best special teams. “When you’re real good in each one of those areas, you’re going to have a great record, and they certainly (do). It’s a great challenge for us.”
Red Wings at Panthers
Faceoff: 5 p.m. Sunday, BB&T Center, Sunrise, Fla.
TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit/97.1 FM
Outlook: The Panthers (29-27-12) have slumped over the last 10 games (3-3-4), knocking them out of playoff contention. … C Aleksander Barkov (46 assists, 75 points) had five assists in Friday’s 6-2 victory over Minnesota.