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Red Wings' Filip Zadina ready to drive his game to a new level

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Detroit right wing Filip Zadina takes a shot during practice.

Detroit – During Red Wings training camp, Filip Zadina was asked how confident he felt heading into this preseason.

Zadina, the much-hyped 2018 first-round pick, has one year of pro hockey completed, was coming off a good prospects tournament performance, and appeared ready to go for the exhibition season.

He wasn’t interested in talking about his confidence level, though.

“I’ll show you on the ice,” Zadina said.

Zadina was to be in the lineup Friday night against the Islanders for the second time this preseason. He had the primary assist Wednesday on Taro Hirose’s power-play goal, Zadina’s shot deflecting to Hirose for a one-timer.

It’s been a good start for Zadina, still only 19, but whether he can do enough to make the opening night roster remains to be seen.

If Zadina can show enough to warrant a spot on the top two lines, maybe even the third, and get sufficient ice time, there might be a path to the roster.

But given that Zadina didn’t dominate at the AHL level for Grand Rapids last season, and there’s still parts of his game to be ironed out, it might make the most sense for Zadina to get more seasoning in the minors.

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Wherever Zadina calls home in October, he’s confident he’ll take another step forward in his development.

“The game is going to be a little bit slower for me this year because I know what it’s going to be like,” Zadina said. “It’s about the space (on the ice), but it’s about patience. If you get the puck, you have to skate. Be smart, and a good skater, and the game will be easier.”

Zadina spent the majority of last season in Grand Rapids, where he had 16 goals and 19 assists (35 points) in 59 games. In a nine-game look-see with the Wings in March, Zadina had three points (one goal, two assists).

The season didn’t go as planned – Zadina planned on more time in the NHL – but he learned from it.

“It’s part of hockey life,” said Zadina. “No one has an easy way to the NHL. I was glad I could spend one year in the AHL. It opened my eyes to what I have to do better.

“I worked the whole summer and I’m a better player.”

Filip Zadina

One thing the Wings’ coaching staff has stressed with Zadina, is the need to drive to the net, and create scoring opportunities near the crease area.

Zadina has an outstanding shot, and he’s a dangerous passer. But so many scoring chances in the NHL come from going to the net and creating havoc that way.

“To get to the big numbers of goals, you have to get right around the net,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “You have to pick up what you’d term ‘dirty goals.’ It’s something we’ve talked to him about and something he’s continuing to work on.

“If I were to say to him what would drive his performance, 40 percent of NHL goals get scored in that little square we have drawn on the ice (crease). He needs to get to the 40 percent in order to really score. I talked about that with (Anthony) Mantha a couple years ago on net-front power play.”

Zadina also must play a full-ice game, being as dedicated to defense as he is to offense.

“He’s got to score, he’s a goal scorer,” Blashill said. “Now, he can’t do it by cheating. If you cheat for offense, you don’t have any chance to win so you have to be able to score without cheating.

“I don’t want to put undue pressure on him. You don’t have to score every game, but you have opportunities to score every game and then you have to score. That’s what he does best. He’ll have to do that while balancing being a complete player.”

During the intra-squad scrimmage in camp, Zadina crashed the net on more than one occasion.

“Probably it’s going to be my game – go more to the net,” Zadina said. “I can be more productive in front of the net. It’s not easy goals. They’re still hard goals, same way when you shoot the puck.”

General manager Steve Yzerman felt Zadina had a good prospects tournament (four assists in four games), despite not scoring a goal.

“He can really shoot the puck, he’s got an instinct for getting open,” Yzerman said. “He’s only 19, he was eligible to play junior (hockey) last year. He did very well in the American League. It’s just adjusting to the pro game.

“He’ll continue to get physically stronger and gain experience, and with that strength and experience, he’ll get more accustomed to the pro game.

“Not knowing him very well, but talking with a lot of people on the staff that know him, he’s got a good attitude and he’s open-minded and wants to improve. With a good attitude and open mind and work ethic, he’ll improve. He’s projecting in the right direction.”

Zadina enjoyed the tournament early this month, helping the Wings’ organization to only its second prospects tournament championship. It gave Zadina another jolt of confidence.

“That was great,” said Zadina of the tournament championship. “Confident? Yeah."


Twitter: @tkulfan