Editor's Note: Sheng Peng will be a regular contributor to NBC Sports California’s Sharks coverage. You can read more of his coverage on San Jose Hockey Now, listen to him on the San Jose Hockey Now Podcast, and follow him on Twitter at @Sheng_Peng
DETROIT -- Filip Zadina's first San Jose Sharks season has been up and down, but three weeks ago, he'd generated some momentum for himself.
After a two-assist performance in a 5-1 win over the Blues on Nov. 16, Zadina started moving up lines. He'd started the season next to fellow Czech player Tomas Hertl on the Sharks' top line, but by that mid-November home game against St. Louis, he was down on the third line.
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“I liked Filip's game,” Sharks coach David Quinn said afterward. “I like the way his game is trending.”
That led to Zadina being moved up to San Jose's second line in the next two games. But an injury then stalled him -- and that has been the unfortunate story of Zadina's six-year NHL career. He missed two weeks with an upper-body injury that had nagged him even before the Sharks placed him on IR on Nov. 27.
“It's nothing I didn't experience before,” the 24-year-old winger said last week. “It is what it is, I guess.”
It’s the same pattern Zadina experienced with the Detroit Red Wings, who drafted him with much fanfare No. 6 overall in the 2018 NHL Draft. Expected to be a sure-fire 30-goal scorer, Zadina perhaps was rushed into pro hockey at age 19, and then was hampered by injuries and his own inconsistencies. Zadina managed just 28 goals in 190 games in parts of five seasons with the Red Wings.
San Jose Sharks
Zadina walked away from $4.56 million cash and two more years on his Detroit contract last season to sign a $1.1 million prove-it contract with San Jose. Now, with three goals and two assists through 22 games in teal, Zadina again is healthy, and he was back in Motown on Thursday night for the Sharks' meeting with the Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena.
Zadina's talent still is there, but so is the inconsistency.
“I think guys are trying to find out who they are going to be at this level,” Quinn recently said. “I think he's still trying to find it and embrace what he's going to be at this level. There's really no blueprint for it. There's really no timeline for it.”
There is a timeline for Zadina in San Jose, though, as the Sharks must decide after this season if they want to retain the pending restricted free agent. So, they'll have to see some growth in his game over the next five months.
Good signs, not-so-good signs
Appropriately enough, Zadina displayed the best and worst of his game during the first period of that St. Louis meeting.
He started that game on a high just two minutes into the first period, when he entered the zone and navigated into three Blues players. St. Louis defenseman Scott Perunovich swept his stick out, perhaps hoping to block a Zadina pass to Nico Sturm along the wall. But when Perunovich reached, Zadina got a step on him.
Zadina was at a bad angle, but he fired the puck anyway, perhaps hoping for a rebound to Sharks teammate Mike Hoffman hovering around the net. The rebound, however, went to Blues defenseman Marco Scandella, who handed it off to teammate Kevin Hayes. Hoffman was waiting, though, so Hayes chipped it past him.
That left pinching Sharks defenseman Ty Emberson closest to the puck, so Hayes and Jakub Vrana converged on him. Two Blues on one Shark means there's an open man elsewhere on the ice, and after Emberson hit Zadina with a pass in the corner, he diagnosed that. Scandella closed on Zadina, who quickly one-touched the puck to Sturm, who now had a down-low 2-on-1 with Hoffman.
Sturm made a great pass, and six-time 20-goal scorer Hoffman did the rest.
Zadina recorded another assist late in the second period, this time on a stretch pass to Hoffman, who popped ahead of the St. Louis defense and easily scored for a 5-0 San Jose lead.
Those two plays showcased the variety of skills that made Zadina such a highly touted prospect. He's a confident skater, stick-handler and shooter. He's also a highly skilled forward who can slow it down, like he did when he beat Perunovich, and speed it up, as he did with his pass to Sturm.
Now for the not-so-good.
The Sharks, up 12 to 3 in shots late in the first period, had the Blues on their heels, and were trying to maintain their momentum with a clean breakout. In the corner, Sturm tapped the puck to Mario Ferraro, who went D-to-D to Emberson, and Zadina set up to receive the pass near the top of the circle.
The second that Emberson released the pass, though, it looked like trouble, as Torey Krug was right on top of Zadina. And in fairness to Zadina, Ferraro’s pass to Emberson looked a little slow, as was Emberson’s pass to Zadina.
But Zadina -- back turned or not -- didn't account for Krug's pressure. In a perfect world, this is a live-to-fight-another-day play, with Zadina just backhanding it out of the zone. At worst, it’d be a turnover along the wall.
Instead, Zadina tried to do too much, pulling the puck to his forehand. Then it was a turnover in the middle of the defensive zone -- about the worst place for that to happen.
Zadina compounded the mistake by again doing too much, making a desperation sprawl in a non-desperation situation.
Sure, it was a bad turnover, but Zadina can’t take himself out of the play like that, so far from the net. Unless Zadina can make a spectacular play, by poking the puck out of the zone, he'd give the Blues a man advantage.
All that led to a good St. Louis chance, in an opening frame that San Jose had dominated.
The Blues proceeded to take the next four shots, seizing back the momentum.
Future is in Zadina's hands
Those plays illustrate how good Zadina can be -- and what gets in the way of him maximizing his potential. It’s not skill, and it’s not desire. If anything, it’s too much desire.
"He wants to get better," Quinn said. "The thing that you love about him, he's very coachable and his effort. From a coaching standpoint, that's really all you can ask for from your players -- he's trying to do the right thing. His intentions are in the right place.
"Sometimes he can be his own worst enemy. He presses and wants to do so well. Sometimes that can be problematic."
It has proved to be throughout Zadina's career. In a prove-it year, he’ll have to show something else.