Wings plenty encouraged as Filip Zadina concludes NHL audition

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Filip Zadina's rookie season with the Wings is coming to an end.

Detroit — He hasn’t been overwhelming, yet he hasn’t looked out of place, either.

And there’s plenty to be encouraged about regarding Filip Zadina, the Red Wings’ first-round pick last June. This nine-game look-see for Zadina in the NHL has likely worked out about as well as the Red Wings could have envisioned.

Zadina will play his ninth and final game of the season Thursday against Tampa Bay, then head back to Grand Rapids to finish the season with the Griffins in the American Hockey League.

Zadina, 19, has a goal and assist in eight games. He's taken 15 shots, and has a minus-5 plus-minus rating.

“He’s gotten better game by game,” coach Jeff Blashill said earlier in the week. “He’s gotten more and more confident, making plays, finding ways to create space.

“It’s a real positive step in the right direction, and certainly good for our organization.”

More: Wings clipped by Canadiens, eliminated from playoffs for third straight season

Zadina will not play more than nine games because that would activate a year in Zadina’s entry-level contract. And the Wings have no intention of doing that.

Zadina understood that, and came into this audition with the intention of showing the Wings he will be ready to compete for a full-time role next season.

After getting acclimated to his new surroundings, Zadina became increasingly an offensive threat.

“I feel pretty good, I feel confident,” Zadina said. “It’s probably why I’m playing way better than I played my first game. (I) feel great with the puck, confident, and creating chances for my teammates.”

More: Red Wings keep Brian Lashoff in organization with 2-year contract extension

In Blashill’s estimation, there are two types of wingers — pure shooters who need a center to set them up, and wingers who are able to handle the puck and control the play much like a center can, or does.

Blashill sees Zadina as a winger who, eventually, can be a cross between the two types.

“He looks like a guy who not only has a real good shot, but can control the puck enough and make enough plays,” Blashill said. “A lot of that comes from confidence. It’s just a learning process and learning how to create space.

“He’s not super fast and he’s not super big, so he has to create space with his mind and his edges. He’s real quick at cutbacks and he’s done a real good job of learing how to creates space.”

Dylan Larkin will miss Thursday's game.

Injuries piling up

The Wings will not have forward Dylan Larkin (neck strain) Thursday, as Larkin misses his fifth consecutive game. The Wings aren’t planning on getting Larkin into the lineup until he has full-motion and is pain-free.

Already down one defenseman — Mike Green, who is out for the remainder of the season with a virus — the Wings will not have Jonathan Ericsson (lower body), either, against Tampa.

Ericsson appeared to twist, or sprain, his right knee Tuesday in Montreal in a collision along the boards.

Blashill said after the game the Wings would have more information regarding Ericsson by Thursday’s morning skate.

Madison Bowey would replace Ericsson in the lineup.

New additions

The Red Wings may have both Taro Hirose (Michigan State) and Ryan Kuffner — their newly signed, undrafted college free agents — in town by Thursday.

Both Canadian natives need to change their visas from academic to professional status, and could be in the Wings’ lineup in approxiately a week.

With Zadina returning to the AHL, and Larkin’s injury day-to-day, there is certainly room for both to get a taste of the NHL.

Both will remain with the Wings for the remainder of this season (it concludes April 6).

Encouraging sign

It was pretty much known from December — and maybe even in October when the Wings began the season 1-7-2 — but with Tuesday’s loss, the Wings were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

In the midst of a current streak in which they’ve lost 11 of 12 games, it might be difficult to gleam many positives from this season.

But veteran defenseman Niklas Kronwall told reporters after Tuesday’s 3-1 loss in Montreal the development of young players has been a plus this season.

“The encouraging this is our younger guys have taken real good steps in the right direction this year,” Kronwall said.

“We got younger guys in all positions playing big minutes.”

Lightning at Red Wings

Faceoff: 7:30 Thursday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: The Lightning (53-13-4) have the best record in the NHL by an astounding 16 points. … Tampa has defeated the Wings 14 consecutive times in the regular season. The last Wings’ victory over Tampa: Nov. 3, 2015. … RW Nikita Kucherov is likely headed toward an MVP award with an NHL-leading 111 points.

Twitter: @tkulfan