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Ansar Khan on What Zadina Needs To Add to His Game

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Credit: Grand Rapids Griffins

This is a Filip Zadina stat worth repeating.

Last year, Zadina averaged just 5.01 Shot Attempts and 2.5 Shots Per 60 on the power play, per Natural Stat Trick. That’s a sharp drop from his 26.72 Shot Attempts and 13.84 Shots Per 60 from 2019-2022.

It’s worth noting that at the same time, Zadina averaged 8.31 Shots Per 60 at 5-on-5 last season, a career-high. So this transformation in his power play activity seems confined to the man advantage.

Basically Zadina, a shooter first, wasn’t that last year on the PP. He was shooting at 80 percent less than normal.

I covered some of how the San Jose Sharks, who signed Zadina to a one-year, $1.1 millon contract this past summer, could unlock the best from the winger in this analysis earlier this month. The 2018 sixth-overall pick took a step back last season, scoring just three goals and four assists in 30 games.

How Can Sharks Help Zadina Find His Game? (+)

But I wanted to ask someone who’s watched Zadina regularly what happened to him last year. I turned to beat reporter Ansar Khan of MLive, who kept daily tabs on the Detroit Red Wings’ power play formations last season.

Khan noted last year that the left-hander’s regular positioning on the power play changed. Instead of his customary one-timer spot on the right flank, the Red Wings, more often than not, placed Zadina in the bumper or high slot. According to Khan, playmaker Lucas Raymond and another one-timer option, Dominik Kubalik, played ahead of Zadina in that feature right flank role.

What also didn’t help Zadina?

“He did not have a good training camp and pre-season. He was actually a healthy scratch [for the first two games of the year]. He just quickly fell out of favor with a new coach, and he never really recovered. [Then] he got injured, I think in November, blocking a shot, got hit by a shot and broke his leg,” Khan said, also noting that Zadina got behind free agent Wings forwards Kubalik, David Perron, and Andrew Copp on the depth chart. “They had more options on the power play, and it was simply a matter of Zadina just dropping down the pecking order.”

Zadina himself noted that he suffered an appendicitis at the end of the 2021-22 campaign, which put him behind the eight-ball in his summer training.

Zadina Had Better Offers, But Chose Sharks Because of Quinn (+)

Anyway, Zadina did not look comfortable in the high slot on the power play, a high-traffic area which requires quick, accurate passing and shooting decisions. Khan agreed.

So of course, the obvious answer for the San Jose Sharks is to reinstate Zadina on the right flank of the power play. He was an above-average scoring threat from there from 2019 to 2022, ringing up 2.11 Power Play Goals Per 60, good for 57th among all NHL forwards (of 178 qualified, 300-plus PP minutes). That’s not too bad for a youngster.

But Khan cautioned against simply giving Zadina what he probably wants.

“Their whole thing with him the last couple of years was they didn’t want him to be as much on the perimeter. And just to be like a one-trick pony. Where all he could do was fire off shots, one-timers from the flank,” Khan said. “They wanted him to be a little bit more at the net, and be more on the inside, and kind of expand his repertoire a little bit. I think that’s why they moved him. They wanted to get him closer to the net. Try to find different ways to score, whether that’s garbage goals around the net and things like that.”

Basically, there’s an argument that while Zadina is good at one specific aspect of goal-scoring, that one-timer off the right flank, he’s not good enough, at least at the NHL level, to rely on just that. Problem is, he wasn’t effective in other goal-scoring areas, at least last year.

“He’s got to get away from just relying on his one-timer and his shot from his favorite area of the ice there, the right circle,” Khan said. “It’s one thing to beat Quebec league goalies that way consistently, he’s just not going to beat NHL goalies that way consistently. You’ve got to figure out other ways to score.”

So we’ll see if Zadina has added some range to his on-the-ice game next month, when San Jose Sharks training camp starts.

Zadina will also need to add to his game off the ice.

“[I’ve heard that] he struggles a bit with confidence. Very hard on himself,” an NHL coach told San Jose Hockey Now.

Scouts on Zadina’s Game, Upside: ‘Change will be good for him’

Jack Han in his Hockey Tactics Newsletter corroborated the same thing in his excellent Zadina deep-dive.

“He puts a lot of pressure on himself which causes him to lose confidence when the puck doesn’t go in,” a Zadina teammate told Han.

“He did seem to lack confidence,” Khan observed.

But one thing that everybody agrees on? Zadina’s lack of progress in his career isn’t from a lack of trying.

“With him, it was never a case where they weren’t happy with his work ethic or [his desire] to be a good player. He wanted to be a good player. He always tried and worked hard,” Khan said. “They’ve had other players in the past, they just weren’t happy with their work ethic, they got rid of those guys like Anthony Mantha and [Andreas] Athanasiou, just to name a couple, but with Zadina, that was never the case.”

That’s encouraging. And hopefully, Zadina’s work ethic will allow him to add other layers to his NHL game before it’s too late.

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