FIlip Zadina looks much better than a year ago, say the Detroit Red Wings. Filmed Nov. 26, 2019 in Detroit.
Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press

Filip Zadina appears to have recovered from what the Detroit Red Wings called being  “punched in the face.”

Their prize pick from the 2018 draft looks stronger and sounds more mature. Higher-ups in the organization, from general manager Steve Yzerman on down, have talked to Zadina about taking a long-term approach to establishing himself at the NHL level. When he showed glimpses of thriving at the AHL level — a six-game point streak with four goals and four assists coming on the heels of a four-game point streak — just as the Wings needed help to ameliorate the loss of their leading scorer, Anthony Mantha, it created an opportunity for Zadina to show how he has improved in his second year of pro hockey.

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“His overall game has gotten better,” Wings coach Jeff Blashill said Tuesday. “Just his competitiveness on the puck and competitiveness to get the puck when he doesn’t have it. When you are a scorer in junior you have the puck on your stick lots, so when you get in pros sometimes you wait for the puck to get to your stick and it never gets there. You have to go get it enough times. He’s certainly gotten better in that area.

“I would also just say, though, he looks more confident. The way that shows is his quickness is a little bit better. He makes a little quicker decisions with the puck. He’s confident to try to make a play. I think he’s coming. I think he’s coming for sure.”

Blashill said Zadina, who was called up from Grand Rapids on Nov. 24, is with the Wings on a game-by-game basis. The time frame for Mantha’s return is a bit murky, but Blashill said it will be “several weeks” before Mantha can even being skating.

Zadina has a good shot and a quick release. Like Mantha, he likes going to his one-timer. Zadina’s offensive skill set is why the Wings, under previous general manager Ken Holland, drafted Zadina at sixth overall in 2018. Zadina was eligible to play in Grand Rapids last season at age 18 because he was on loan to his junior club from his old club in his native Czech Republic. It was a tough transition for Zadina, who tallied 16 goals and 19 assists in 59 games for the Griffins at age 18.

Then he came to camp this fall and was unable to make a good impression, earning another assignment to the Griffins.

“I was disappointed in myself that I was sent down but it was still hockey,” Zadina said. “I just stay with my hockey, trust in myself. I believe in myself and my teammates and we start to produce some offense. Then we started playing better as a team and the points went on. I was happy.”

Zadina, who turned 20 Wednesday, has six goals and six assists in 13 games since Oct. 25. He missed a game with a sore knee, but was back the next game. 

“Down there it’s about grinding and get the chances to the net and put the pucks around the net,” Zadina said. “I just find out myself what I have to do better. I’m glad for the time there.

“Since I was playing better down there, I was feeling better with my head. I think the confidence is pretty huge in hockey and I feel good right now.’

Much is expected of a player drafted as high as Zadina, and the Wings have emphasized patience to Zadina.

“It sounds like nice,” Zadina said, “but in hockey, you don’t know what to think about it. It’s marathon, but you want to be here as soon as you can.”

Zadina had one goal and two assists in a nine-game audition late last season. Seeing him find his scoring touch in the AHL looks encouraging.

“When you struggle, your first instinct, in most people, is to get a little bit defensive, because you are kind of in survival mode a little bit,” Blashill said. “Last year when he came out he struggled a little bit and all of a sudden he’s survival mode and it’s hard. Then you’re getting tons of information, everybody has an idea of how you’re going to be better, and your head starts to spin a little bit. As you get more time under your belt and you mature as a person and as a player, you’re just more confident in what you know it’s going to take to be successful.

“When you first really get punched in the face the way sometimes you do when you come into pro, all of a sudden you question what it’s going to take for you to be successful. It might be different than what it used to be. Over time, with the coaching, with the maturity, with the confidence, he sure looks lik