Relax. Zadina Isn’t a Bust

Cheering for a bad team is exhausting. Not just because the team itself is bad and it gets tiring to watch them fail the same way night after night with a few good games here and there to instill in you a false sense of hope, but because other fans can be way too pessimistic.

There’s a difference between optimistic or neutral admission that a team is bad and explaining why, and outright pessimism. I tend to think of myself as a neutral fan with optimistic leanings and I understand not feeling hopeful about the Red Wings, but sometimes the pessimistic fans get on my last nerve and recently the topic that’s made me the most angry is Filip Zadina.

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Zadina (center) at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.

Filip Zadina, for those who don’t know, is a 6’0” 196 lb LW/RW drafted by the Red Wings 6th overall in the 2018 NHL entry draft. The season prior to his draft, the 2017-18 season, he got 82 points in 57 games with the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads. 44 of those points were goals. He got 12 points in 7 playoff games that season even though the Mooseheads didn’t win it all. He scored a goal-per-game at the 2018 World Junior Championship. According to The Hockey Writers, he was ranked 2nd among North American skaters by the NHL Central Scouting Mid-Term and 3rd by ISS; most rankings listed by The Hockey Writers had him between 2nd and 4th overall. And he was still available when the Wings picked 6th, which is absolutely wild and was possible because the Montreal Canadiens instead picked center Jesperi Kotkaniemi 3rd overall.

In response to be skipped, Zadina said “if they will pass on me, I’m going to fill their nets with pucks. I want to prove to Detroit that they make a pretty good decision.” So he’s got a bit of an attitude, which I like since it’s leagues better than being bland and boring like 90% of the NHL. A little personality is refreshing in a league where it’s common to have less personality than a slice of white bread.

But this particular quote—one I really like—is something people have latched on to. Has Zadina filled the nets of the teams that skipped him? No, because he’s been in the AHL. Also, Kotkaniemi who went 3rd overall made the Canadiens roster instead of playing with their AHL squad the Laval Rocket. Which to some people, a group that contains Wings fans and fans of the teams that skipped Zadina, means he’s obviously a bust.

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Zadina signing his contract with the Detroit Red Wings.

You read that right; some people think a 6th overall pick in the most recent draft who is currently in the AHL is a bust because the 3rd overall pick from that same draft is in the NHL. It sounds absolutely bonkers when I break it down like that, when the names are removed from the situation, doesn’t it? Since when does the 3rd pick being in the NHL already mean the 6th pick is a bust for being in the AHL?

So what if Zadina is in the AHL? Is it bad for a 6th overall pick to play their first pro season after their draft in the AHL?

Other 6th overall picks dating back to the 1998 NHL entry draft who didn’t make it to the NHL the season immediately after being drafted, if we define “making it to the NHL” as playing 40 games in in the NHL, include Rico Fatta (1998; he’d play in 20 NHL games the season following his draft), Brian Finley (1999; he’d never become an NHL regular), Mikko Koivu (2001; he’d play 3 more seasons for TPS and 1 season in the AHL before making his NHL debut), Scottie Upshall (2002; he’d play 2 AHL games and 8 NHL games follow his draft but spent the majority of the season in the WHL), Milan Michálek (2003; he’d sit out the season due to knee injury), Al Montoya (2004; he wouldn’t make his NHL debut until the 2008-2009 season), Gilbert Brulé (2005; he spent most of the following season in the WHL), Derick Brassard (2006; he’d spend the next season in the QMJHL), Nikita Filatov (2008; he’d spend most of the next season in the AHL), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (2009; he’d play for Leksands IF for another season), Brett Connolly (2010; he’d spend another season in the WHL), Mika Zibanejad (2011; he’d spend another season with Djurgårdens IF), Hampus Lindholm (2012; he’d spend the following season in the AHL), Jake Virtanen (2014; he’d spend a season in the AHL), Pavel Zacha (2015; he’d spend another season in the WHL), and Cody Glass (2018; plays for the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL).

The point of this list is not to prove 6th overall picks who don’t immediately make it to the NHL are better players, but to prove it’s not unusual to not play in the NHL the season following being drafted. 17 of the last 20 players selected 6th overall, including Zadina, did not play 40 NHL games in the season following their draft. It’s normal and, this early in a career is not an indicator of anything.

Looking at a Kaplan-Meier “survival” curve made using data from 2007-2016 on time until a player’s 10th NHL game by draft round from Survival Analysis of NHL Prospect Timelines by Namita Nandakumar from Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, you can see that only ~30% of 1st round draft picks have played in 1 NHL game 82 regular season games following their draft. So, in other words, ~70% of 1st round draft picks from 2007-2016 did not play 1 or more games the season following their NHL entry draft. Only ~20% of 1st round draft picks played in 10 NHL games, only ~15% have played in 40 games, and what appears to be maybe ~5% have played in 80 games 82 regular season games following their draft.

So is it really an issue that Filip Zadina has not played in a single NHL game 42 Detroit Red Wings regular season games following the 2018 NHL Entry Draft? No, not at all. In fact, it’s pretty normal that he hasn’t.

Zadina currently has 17 points—8 goals and 9 assists—in 27 AHL games played. 2 of his goals have been game-winners. Looking at his previous seasons, Zadina is not having a terrific year in Grand Rapids. But this also doesn’t mean he’s a bust or not what we thought he’d be. He’s in a transitional season from the QMJHL to the AHL, and sometimes transitions from league to league are rough. Maybe I’m too forgiving of a rough season, but I don’t think there’s any reason to be alarmed when it comes to Zadina.

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Zadina with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins.

Some people seem to think Zadina is a bust simply for not being in Detroit while Kotkaniemi is in Montreal. So why is Zadina not playing in the NHL? I can think of several reasons off the top of my head.

Reason 1: It’s transitional. Going from the QMJHL to the AHL is a much smaller jump than going from the QMJHL to the NHL. It could simply be that he’s being eased into the NHL.

Reason 2: He’s not needed in Detroit right now. The Wings are currently an awful combination of young guys who should be there and are the future of the team, guys who were signed to contracts that were too long that unfortunately have a few seasons left on them, and older guys. What good would having Zadina in Detroit do with this team? He’s not going to make a tremendous difference, so why not play him in Grand Rapids?

Reason 3: There’s not room for him right now. Elite Prospects indicates Zadina is a LW/RW, so let’s take a look at what wingers there already are in Detroit. All the wingers on the team are Nyquist (LW/RW), Abdelkader (LW/RW), Helm (C/LW), Vanek (LW/RW), Athanasiou (LW/RW), Glendening (C/RW), Bertuzzi (LW/RW), Frk (RW), de la Rose (C/LW), Ehn (C/LW), and Witkowski (RW/D). Four of them—Nyquist, Abdelkader, Helm, and Vanek—all have no-trade clauses. Most people would agree moving Athanasiou and Bertuzzi is a bad move. So that leaves Glendening, Frk, de la Rose, Ehn, and Witkowski and, personally, I would not mind seeing any of them leave. But the question is who would want them and would the Wings actually move them?

Listen, I get being pessimistic when you cheer for a struggling team, but there’s a difference between pessimism and being ridiculous. Reasonable pessimism with the Wings would be something more like “If they enter the third with a lead, they’re going to lose” or “They’re probably not going to win the game.” As far as I know, both of these things are true or at least feel true. But “Zadina is a bust” is ridiculous because, so far, there’s nothing to indicate that. Is your issue his AHL points production? Well, it could just be a rough transitional season. Is your issue the fact he’s in the AHL? Fun fact: it’s normal that he’s in the AHL. Either way, it’s way too early to tell if Zadina will end up being a bust. No player ended up being a bust just because they played in the AHL the season following their draft and maybe had a bit of a rough time.

Relax. Take deep breaths. Zadina will probably be fine.

Survival Analysis: https://hockeygraphsdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2017/10/namita.pdf
Positional information from Elite Prospects
Stats source: Elite Prospects

Zadina image sources: 1, 2, 3

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