When Detroit Red Wings rookie forward Filip Zadina takes the ice tonight, it will mark his fifth NHL game. More importantly, it means he is halfway toward burning the first year of his entry-level contract. Under the NHL CBA, an 18- or 19-year-old player may have their entry-level contract “slide” if he does not play a minimum of 10 NHL games in a given season. For the first-year pro Zadina, this looked like a likely outcome for much of the year. The No. 6 overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft had played exclusively in the AHL this season until late last month, when he was finally recalled by the Red Wings. Now Detroit has a decision to make.
With 14 games remaining in the regular season for a team that is well beyond any playoff hopes, the Red Wings brass must decide if they want to limit Zadina to less than five more games down the stretch, thereby extending his rookie deal by one year, or instead continue to provide NHL experience to an elite young player who is likely to be a regular contributor beginning next season. Zadina, a talented forward who had recorded 31 points in 45 AHL games prior to his recall, projects to see a major raise in his next contract given his draft pedigree and expected production over the next few years, giving Detroit all the more reason to extend his affordable entry-level deal if possible. However, to both appease the young core player and further his development, they may just opt to keep Zadina in Detroit for the remainder of the season at the cost of burning a year off the deal. Either way, Zadina is bound for a return to the Grand Rapids Griffins for a postseason run, so the only question is simply when he is sent back down. Two other players who risk losing their “slide” status are Boston Bruins defenseman Urho Vaakanainen and Carolina Hurricanes forward Martin Necas, both of whom are presently in the AHL and have played a handful of games in the NHL this season and would be near the top of the recall list if their team was to suffer injuries down the stretch or in the postseason.
- One Red Wings prospect who looks like he may never suit up for the team is Axel Holmstrom. All season long, there has been rumors that the 22-year-old Swedish forward was eyeing a return to Europe when his current contract expired at the end of the season. Although Holmstrom will be a restricted free agent, Detroit can do nothing to keep him in the system if he wishes to leave and can only retain his NHL rights moving forward by making a qualifying offer. The doubt about Holmstrom’s longevity in North America even prompted his KHL rights to be traded this season. However, a new report from Swedish news source Kvall Posten has turned up the heat on the Holmstrom rumors and makes it sound as if the NHL and KHL are both out of the running already. The article states instead that Holmstrom has become a hot commodity back home in Sweden, with several SHL teams reportedly already bidding for his services. In fact, it is stated that two well-known teams have already been priced out. Skelleftea AIK, the team Holmstrom played for prior to coming to North America three years ago, and the Vaxjo Lakers HC, another top contender in SHL this season, are both expected to be out of the running. The remaining bidders are thought to be current league leader Lulea HF, whose GM recently met with Holmstrom in person in Grand Rapids, and HV71, who are believed to have made the highest offer. With this kind of bidding war going on among teams in his home country, it is very unlikely that Holmstrom will be back with Detroit next season. The young forward has been consistent if unspectacular in two full AHL seasons with the Griffins and does not seem all that close to pushing for a regular role with the Red Wings. He is bound to land a greater role and a raise on his current salary of less than $700K if (when) he returns to Sweden.
- One player looking to make the opposite move – a jump to the NHL – is Boston Bruins prospect Oskar Steen. A sixth-round pick in 2016, Steen immediately looked like a steal for the Bruins. The small, but skilled forward played 47 games in the SHL as an 18-year-old in 2016-17 and then followed it up by making the Swedish World Junior team last year while again playing in 45 SHL games and doubling his previous point total. However, this year he has shed his role player status and blossomed into a top scorer for Farjestad BK. Still just 20, Steen has nevertheless posted 37 points in 44 games to lead all forwards in scoring and help the team to a top playoff seed. His play has begun to garner attention outside of Sweden. The Providence Journal’s Mark Divver notes that Steen is being considered for a spot on Sweden’s entry into the upcoming World Championships, while adding that he is expected to sign with Boston this off-season. Steen will likely have to spend some time in the AHL at first, but is yet another young forward who will push for ice time with the Bruins next year.