Griffins’ top line one to be reckoned with

Filip Zadina was the 6th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft (Photo: Mark Newman)

by Jason Pearson | AHL On The Beat

Despite the duo being held off the scoresheet in last weekend’s opening two contests, the rest of the Central Division and the American Hockey League should remain on notice: the circuit’s leading scorer a season ago, Chris Terry, and the sixth overall selection by the Detroit Red Wings in this year’s draft, Filip Zadina, are occupying the two wing positions on the Grand Rapids Griffins’ first line.

Terry, still on the right side of 30, has banked over 500 games at the AHL level and 150-plus in the NHL. After he cruised to a career-high 71 points with Laval last season, Detroit inked the free agent veteran to a two-year deal over the summer. Following a highly competitive and spirited training camp, Terry was assigned to Grand Rapids toward the end of the NHL preseason slate to lend scoring and leadership to the Wings’ top affiliate. Five times a 60-plus point scorer in the AHL, Terry was named an alternate captain prior to last Friday’s season opener.

Zadina completely rejuvenated a Detroit fan base when the club scooped him up after he fell to six on the draft board in June. Projected to go as high as No. 3, the 18-year-old sent well wishes to the organizations that skipped over him, which further sent the Wings’ faithful into a frenzy. “I was telling my agent, if they pass on me, I’m going to fill their nets with pucks,” he said on draft night after being selected.

Considering Zadina’s youth, his preseason output and his AHL eligibility, Detroit opted to have him begin his North American professional career with the two-time Calder Cup champs.

While injuries on Detroit’s blue line have resulted in the depletion of Grand Rapids’ D depth, the insertion of Zadina into a forward group that already touted ample firepower was a welcome addition.

“Both are skilled players,” Griffins first-year head coach Ben Simon said of pairing the vet and the rookie together. “Terry’s been around and I think, as a veteran player, can help manage Zadina’s game. He also sees the game in the same light as Zadina with regard to an offensive mindset.”

Grand Rapids’ abundance of front liners includes established scorers in the likes of Carter Camper, former AHL goal-scoring leader Wade Megan, Matthew Ford and Matt Puempel, along with promising first- or second-year players David Pope, Givani Smith and Dominik Shine.

Simon centered Megan on the top line for both games during the opening weekend, but the bench boss hinted there’s a chance he might mix things up in an effort to find the all-important chemistry in the early goings of the season.

Not to be used as a cop out, but with the Red Wings holding on to the majority of those who ultimately compose the Griffins’ roster until the NHL preseason concluded, Grand Rapids had only two solid practice days as a full squad before hopping on a plane and heading south for the season opener at Texas.

Chris Terry (Photo: Sam Iannamico)

“The first weekend we kind of just let our skills take over,” Terry said. “Knowing where your linemates are going to be comes with time. Zadina’s got tremendous skill, he’s going to find me or whoever’s out there with him on the ice and vice versa, I think I can get him the puck to showcase those skills.”

Simon noticed plenty of positive reinforcements being discussed on the bench and during the intermissions between the line.

Zadina, a player who may not make it past the first or second issue of Griffiti – Grand Rapids’ quarterly published game magazine – in a Griffins uniform, has an electric skill set. Much has already been written about how the Pardubice, Czech Republic, native must work on finding time and space, and adjust to the pro game after leading all QMJHL rookies with 44 goals a season ago.

Zadina is trending that way, spending extra moments on skill work after practice earlier this week with former longtime NHLers and current members of the Red Wings’ player development staff, Shawn Horcoff and Dan Cleary.

“It’s easy for me having been in this league for numerous years to now sit back and say I’m thankful for the years I spent in the American League before I made the NHL,” Terry said. “It is the best league in the world for a reason and we’re right below it. This league, take nothing against it, is very hard to play in and there’s a lot of valuable experience to be had down here.”

Point production from the two gifted skaters on the first line is imminent. It’s just a matter of when and how much.

“We can be leaders for our team, scoring some goals and playing the way the coach wants,” Zadina said post-practice earlier this week. “I think we can be leaders and help the team win.”