The Detroit Red Wings enjoyed quite the gift on June 22, as Filip Zadina – a prospect many expected to go third overall in the 2018 NHL Draft – instead fell to them at No. 6. Zadina, enjoyably, did his part by saying he’d avenge that slight slippage by filing nets with pucks.
With an entry-level contract already agreed upon recently, the question for 2018-19 is: where will Zadina fill nets with pucks?
That’s actually a multi-pronged question if the Czech winger cannot make the big club out of training camp.
As the Athletic’s Craig Custance (sub required) and Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James report, the Red Wings and the NHL believe that Zadina would be eligible to be sent to the AHL rather than the QMJHL if he doesn’t make the Red Wings. It’s a little head-scratching leafing through all of the loan-related details, but Zadina’s agent Darren Ferris told Custance that it’s probably a “moot point” since he believes Zadina will make the team.
And that, more than the slightly convoluted questions about the AHL vs. QMJHL, is where things get more intriguing.
Should the Red Wings actually want Zadina to jump straight from the draft to the NHL?
Personally, if I were running the Red Wings, I’d err on the side of letting Zadina develop elsewhere for a simple reason: Detroit could get better value out of Zadina’s entry-level contract if they let it slide for a season.
Frankly, few outside of the Red Wings organization believe that this team has a strong chance of competing in 2018-19. And, really, a strong rookie season from Zadina could actually land this team in unenviable hockey purgatory; if he sniped in, say, 25 goals, it might help Detroit be competitive enough to avoid the best draft lottery odds, but weak enough to miss the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Generally, that’s the worst of both worlds for a team that needs to rebuild.
It’s a significant consideration for a franchise that seemingly must be dragged kicking and screaming into truly embracing a rebuild.
The anticipation was that the Red Wings’ free agent plan would be at odds with a rebuild, and that essentially came to fruition when they re-signed Mike Green and gave Thomas Vanek some no-trade power with his one-year deal. The Detroit Free Press’ Shawn Windsor did a good job of capturing the frustrations of many Red Wings fans after those signings.
Really? The fanbase bemoaned. More veterans? More inexplicable use of cap space? More of the Wings getting in their own way?
Indeed, it’s easy to see why fans want fewer roadblocks for prospects to turn into more NHL-ready players. After all, is there really that much upside to signing Vanek, who’s already 34? Landing the sniper makes sense for a team that needs that one last, mercenary piece. It’s not as logical for the Red Wings, especially if they really can’t move him during the trade deadline.
So, that’s not so great for prospects trying to elbow their way in, such as Michael Rasmussen, a towering forward Detroit selected ninth overall in 2017. That said, it could be a blessing in disguise if Vanek’s presence helps the Red Wings take a slow-and-steady approach with Zadina.
From a pure team-building standpoint, the Red Wings would likely be best suited to see Zadina’s entry-level deal kick in starting in 2019-20. By then, they’d be that much deeper into their rebuild, with more clarity about aging veterans such as Henrik Zetterberg and more knowledge of what they have in the likes of Rasmussen. Perhaps they’d also add another blue chipper in the 2019 NHL Draft, and maybe a better one if they shipped Zadina to the AHL or junior, depending upon how all of that would shake out.
Of course, there’s another element to consider. When a team is rebuilding, it’s crucial to maintain hope for fans.
With a still-new-arena, Zadina could serve as a draw for fans, even those with low hopes for 2018-19.
Sure, people will share highlights of Zadina on social media, even if those clips are coming from a lower level. That’s already happening.
Plenty of people will prefer seeing those moments in the flesh, and against the highest level of opponents, so there’s also that to consider.
It’s not the easiest call to make. On one hand, the Red Wings made their bones by drafting and developing, frequently finding gems in later rounds. On the other, those days are feeling more and more distant, with recent history showing management decisions that leave a lot to be desired.
The good news is that Zadina might be the sort of prospect where even the wrong move wouldn’t sting too badly. It’s plausible that he’s just that good, and getting him to the NHL ASAP could work out perfectly well.
Either way, these are the types of questions the Red Wings need to be examining beyond mere gut reactions, unless they want this rebuild to drag on far longer than expected.