DETROIT -- Filip Zadina had never been to Detroit, never been to Little Caesars Arena, never seen anything like the spectacular home of the Detroit Red Wings that opened less than a year ago. He said he was impressed two steps into his first visit Monday.
"I was like, 'Wow,' " Zadina said.
Funny. Folks had the same first impression of him.
The No. 6 pick of the 2018 NHL Draft was so eager for Red Wings development camp, he asked to go on the ice and do a leg workout Monday, even though the prospects had only a meeting and a dinner on their schedule.
He had to wait until Tuesday. When he finally walked out to the bench at the BALFOUR Training Center, the practice rink inside Little Caesars Arena, he took a long look around. At center ice were the "HOCKEYTOWN" and Winged Wheel logos. Across the far wall were the 11 Stanley Cup banners from Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings' former home. At one end was a huge picture of the Cup below the words, "Where Champions Are Made."
"When I was on the ice, it was awesome feeling," Zadina said. "The rink is beautiful. It's probably the best place to play in the NHL."
These were Zadina's first steps in the NHL, nothing more, no reason to get carried away. But you could see immediately why the Red Wings ranked him No. 3 on their draft board and were thrilled when he was available at No. 6, and why general manager Ken Holland has said he will have a chance to make the NHL roster at age 18.
In a white No. 11 practice jersey, the right wing showed off his shot, whipping pucks past goaltenders, ringing them off posts. He showed off his puck skills, dancing through the Power Edge Pro system of obstacles. He looked comfortable, even though he said he felt weird because he didn't have his usual gear.
"Obviously he's got a fantastic shot, really, good quick release, and he's very agile," said Red Wings director of player development Shawn Horcoff, who played 1,008 NHL games as a forward from 2000-16. "So I think for the first day with all brand-new equipment -- he only brought his skates -- it was pretty impressive."
The Red Wings desperately need that high-end skill. They made the Stanley Cup Playoffs for 25 straight seasons and won the Cup four times from 1991-2016 but have missed the postseason the past two seasons. Their average first pick was No. 38 over a quarter century thanks to success and trades. They unearthed centers Pavel Datsyuk in the sixth round (No. 171, 1998) and Henrik Zetterberg in the seventh round (No. 210, 1999), but the further from the top of the draft, the harder to find difference-makers.
Zadina is the Red Wings' highest pick since they took center Keith Primeau No. 3 in the 1990 NHL Draft and has been adding social-media followers by the hundreds each day. He scored seven goals in seven games for the Czech Republic in the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship, tying for second in the tournament. He had 44 goals in 57 games for Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2017-18, tied for third in the league. Detroit scored 2.59 goals per game in 2017-18, 28th in the NHL, and converted at 17.5 percent on the power play, 24th in the League.
Told he'd have a good chance to make the NHL roster, Zadina said: "That's good to hear, but I've got to do all my best stuff on the ice. I need to prove to them that I'm a good player and I deserve to get a spot on the team. I've got a chance, but I need to take it and I need to play my best hockey."
That's good to hear too. This is a player who said of the teams that passed on him at the draft: "I will fill their net with the puck."'
"He wants to make an impression," Horcoff said. "Obviously he's disappointed with where he got drafted, which is impressive for us, and he's … confident that he can score. And we're hoping he does, because that's what we're going to need."
The point of this camp is to teach the prospects how to be professionals, Red Wings in particular. Holland gave a speech in which he reminded the prospects of how few spots were available on the NHL roster each season and how much work it would take to beat out a veteran. The Red Wings will spend this week talking about on- and off-ice habits, trying to give the prospects a head start via video and drills.
For example, they will show video about how offense is created at the NHL level, so they can start thinking about what they will need to do.
"If you're a scorer, there's certain areas where you have to go, and then when you get there, there's certain spots you want to shoot," Horcoff said. "They're going to give you a higher percentage of scoring goals."
Zadina should keep his eyes and ears open.
"I'll try my best, and we'll see," Zadina said. "Hopefully I'll make it."