The Red Wings Next Generation of Z

The 2018 offseason has been a rollercoaster of emotions for Detroit Red Wings fans. On the evening of June 22, tensions were high for a fanbase hungry for a game-changing prospect. With Rasmus Dahlin and Andrei Svechnikov locked in for the first two picks, the Montreal Canadiens presented the first real question at pick No. 3, though most analysts expected them to select Filip Zadina.

Their reach for Jesperi Kotkaniemi was followed by the Ottawa Senators and Arizona Coyotes passing on Zadina, too. Moments later, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland and company ascended the stairs of the draft floor in Dallas with grins that seemed to say, “how did this kid just fall to us at No. 6?” An electric goal scorer who dominated his peers at the 2018 World Junior Classic, the announcement of Zadina’s selection represented a beacon of hope to Wings fans who had just endured the two most painful seasons since the Dead Wings era.

In the first week post-draft, the hype surrounding Zadina only seemed to grow – highlights of his insane stick-handling flooded Twitter, which he followed up by netting an OT winner in development camp. The moral of the fanbase seemed to finally be trending in the right direction, as Zadina’s ELC signing preceded Anthony Mantha being locked up to a team-friendly deal in July. When the Wings finally announced the signing of Dylan Larkin, what should have been another summer’s day of excitement and promise was overshadowed by weightier news: Henrik Zetterberg might be hanging them up.

Zetterberg’s Legacy

As the month of August went by, the news surrounding Zetterberg’s back and potential of returning for a final season grew dimmer by the day, until the announcement became official. His career was over.

Red Wings center Henrik Zetterberg
Red Wings center Henrik Zetterberg (Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s hard to grasp what an impact Henrik Zetterberg had on every aspect of the Wings. Despite his back being in such intense pain that he couldn’t even practice between games last year, Z recorded 124 points over the past two seasons, 29 more than the second-highest scoring Wing in that span. He has been vocal about the team’s need for improvement, as well as his own shortcomings. He has quite literally put the team on his back, and it finally caught up to him.

Since his entrance onto the team in 2002, Zetterberg’s leadership, work ethic, character, and integrity have been the prototype of “The Red Wings Way” that’s desired from top to bottom in the organization. As fans and players from around the league expressed their respect for Zetterberg’s legacy, Wings fans mourned the end of a career for one of their all-time favorites.

Can Zadina Follow Zetterberg?

It’s not just the powerful, left-handed shot or the perfectly groomed European haircut that draws comparisons in the minds of many; the competition and drive that fueled Henrik Zetterberg’s career appears to be the exact template for the Wings next potential star, Filip Zadina. While the former was passed on 209 times before falling to the Wings (just think about that for a second), Zadina only fell down the board to pick No. 6. Despite this, his motivation to prove his naysayers wrong is nothing short of inspirational. Just moments after the draft, he admitted that he already had plans for the teams who had passed on him in the draft, declaring “I’m going to fill their nets with pucks.”

Red Wings forward Filip Zadina
Red Wings forward Filip Zadina (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s a shame that these two workhorses will never wear the Winged Wheel together, but it’s quite possible that Zetterberg calling it quits will open the door for Zadina to make the opening night roster. Zadina continued to look impressive in training camp, and after an admittedly shaky start in his first preseason game, he came out the following night and buried a power-play goal from the top of the circle. That shot is exactly what the Wings need to build up their special teams, which finished 24th in the league last season with a man-advantage.

For Red Wings fans, this offseason of high highs and low lows is drawing to a close, with the beginning of a new season in Detroit just nine days away. There is a day in the near future when No. 40 will hang in the rafters over No. 11 as he carves up the Atlantic Division’s defense and fills their net with pucks. Perhaps this new era, which could begin as soon as Oct. 4 when the Wings faceoff against the Columbus Blue Jackets, is simply one “Z” passing on the torch to the next.