Travis Yost: Can Filip Zadina be saved?

What is the future for Detroit Red Wings forward Filip Zadina?

For starters, he won’t be playing much longer in Hockeytown – the sixth-overall selection in the 2018 NHL Draft has left the Red Wings front office very disappointed. 190 regular season gamesso much so that the team is seriously considering buy out the remainder of his contract,

**Editor’s note: Zadina was placed on unconditional waivers Thursday afternoon for purposes of contract termination.

Whether it was through a buyout or the organization convincing the player that he wanted more time in the American Hockey League (which seems unlikely at the moment), Zadina’s days in Detroit are numbered. This means it is open season for every other NHL team. But can the player be saved? Could the right outfit shed light on why Zadina has enjoyed so much success with the Halifax Mooseheads, or is it just a dream at this point?

The teams are chewing on this while I’m writing this. It made me wonder about the likelihood of being able to save a player with Zadina’s background and profile — while organizations can be extremely patient with blue-chip prospects (unlike your typical third-round skater anyway), successful Reclamation projects seem to be few and far between. If a team were to dip their feet in Lake Zadina, they would have to be prepared to do exactly that.

I want to emphasize one thing: this is definitely a reform project. Not only has Zadina been a below-replacement level player throughout his career, but his production is also far below that of his peers.

Consider the totality of production among the top 10 picks of the 2018 NHL Draft – we’ll use goals above replacement as our unit of measurement, but even simple count statistics like scoring rate make a similar argument against Zadina:

Leaving Zadina aside for a moment, the average skater in this group has contributed nearly 19 goals above expectations, alone worth between three and four wins in the standings.

That number could be high enough for a superstar like Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes, who has already added nearly seven wins to his production in Vancouver’s win column. But most importantly, each of these skaters is a meaningful contributor to their organization. Zadina has been completely negative; Vitaly Kravtsov (ninth overall) is the only other skater with a similar position, and Kravtsov has only played 64 games.

There will always be debate as to how much of a failure the organization considers to be unable to develop in comparison to a single player. It’s clear that Zadina is no longer the skater that Draft Wink thought she was five years ago, but development is not linear and moving through the highest level of competition is an important part of a player’s transformation. To that end, there are two questions an organization must answer as it relates to Zadina:

1. What part of Zdina’s game, if any, can be saved?
2. At what price point, if any, does it make sense to bring in a failed blue-chip prospect?

I think relying on history is valuable here, and what I wanted to do was look at every top 10 selection (2007-2017) we would consider a similar failure – a replacement level-caliber player or worse by his or her age-23 season as the starting criteria, and a review of how each skater’s career progressed beyond their age-23 season.

Here is that list:

About one in six players selected among the top 10 will be considered to be of replacement-level-potential through a season their age, so we’re starting with a very short list of potential comparables. I can arguably find only three forwards in this subset that you would point to as late-stage success stories, and all three in particular had a change of scenery.

Kyle Turris, who had struggled mightily with the Arizona Coyotes, was molded into a reliable top-six forward by the Ottawa Senators. Brett Connolly, after some early struggles with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins, became a 20-goals-per-game attacker with the Washington Capitals. Sam Bennett finally got it With the Florida Panthers after defecting from the Calgary Flames.

In short: A glass-half-full analysis would argue that Zadina is not a man on the island, and that second chances from competing organizations have changed players. Of course, the glass half-empty is that these are fleeting and rare. Three potential late bloomers or salvaged skaters during 11 years of draft picks is not the type of math you want to bet on.

Free tip to Zadina: Given the opportunity, i know where i go,

Data via Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference,

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