The Montreal Canadiens are not afraid to pull the trigger when it comes to gambling on a player’s untapped potential.
Kirby Dach served as the perfect example of how difficult it is to judge a player’s impact when they’re not given enough developmental runway by the team that drafted them.
Not only did Dach emerge as a great player in transition, which in turn led to improved numbers for players like Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki, but he also quickly established himself as a player that will help Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes navigate the rebuild.
It may not seem like it in retrospect, but Hughes gambled by trading for Dach and signing him to a four-year contract that will pay him an annual average value of $3.362 million.
With his first reclamation project yielding fantastic results, Hughes quickly pounced on another player with significant untapped potential: Alex Newhook.
Newhook, 22, may not have produced much with the Colorado Avalanche, but his 14 goals and 16 assists last season were paired with encouraging underlying numbers, mitigating much of the risk that comes with gambling on a younger player in the NHL.
And now, there may be an opportunity for a third reclamation projection available for Hughes and the Canadiens, as the 6th overall pick at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Filip Zadina, is expected to be placed on unconditional waivers by the Detroit Red Wings to terminate his contract.
Hearing #LGRW will place Filip Zadina on unconditional waivers at 12 noon ET today for purposes of mutual contract termination.
Zadina is foregoing the $4.56 million remaining on his deal, seeking a fresh start elsewhere. Huge courage to bet on himself.
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) July 6, 2023
Firstly, it’s a rather encouraging sign that Zadina has agreed to the contract termination. Not only is he forgoing a significant amount of money, but he’s also willing to bet on his potential, which is exactly what general managers such as Hughes want to see from young players who did not manage to carve out a roster spot with their draft teams.
However, his production has been quite concerning.
In 190 games with the Detroit Red Wings, Zadina has managed to score just 28 goals and 40 assists, producing some questionable numbers in the process.
For example, when Zadina was on the ice last year, the Red Wings controlled just 48.1 percent of the shots, the best result he’s produced during his young career. This year he managed a little over 48 percent of the shots, which isn’t terrible, but is far from the type of numbers worth investing in.
On the other hand, there are some things worth looking into, such as the 54 percent control of high-danger shots the Red Wings enjoyed whenever Zadina was on the ice. He finished the year with a 53 percent expected goals for percentage (xGF%), which, on a team like the Red Wings, is quite good. In fact, other than Elmer Soderblom, no other player on the Red Wings enjoyed a higher xGF%.
The Montreal Canadiens struggle when it comes to controlling high-danger scoring chances as well as expected goals for, meaning that Zadina could potentially help improve the team in two crucial areas.
Filip Zadina has struggled with goal threat skills his whole career but at least recently he's done a very good job at moving the puck up the ice. He'll find a roster spot somewhere on a cheap contract soon enough. pic.twitter.com/MbJSr92gro
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) July 6, 2023
The biggest issue remains his production.
Strong underlying numbers are always worth looking into, but there comes a point strong underlying numbers aren’t enough, especially if scoring does not eventually follow.
Seeing as the Canadiens could stand to improve their depth on the wing, a short-term ‘show-me’ contract for Zadina could make sense, but at this point in the rebuild, there are simply too many question marks in the lineup to invest in Zadina’s long-term potential.
All Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens statistics via NaturalStaTrick.