This season the Detroit Red Wings, as they have done for two decades, are going to depend on a “Nick” to eat up solid defensive minutes, contribute offensively, and provide a calming leadership effect on his teammates. The big difference this season lies in the last name of that “Nick.” Niklas Kronwall, and not Nick Lidstrom, will be lacing up some big skates with great responsibilities this fall.
The hard-hitting Swede is already a fan favorite throughout the Motor City. He also challenges the notion in the NHL that European-born players focus too much on skill and therefore labeled as “soft” by their North American counterparts. In fact, Niklas Kronwall hits so hard and so well on the open ice that his last name has become a verb.
“to Kronwall” – Swedish origin. Being completed demolished by an open ice hit.
Call the hits legal, cheap, amazing, or whatever adjective you can think of, Red Wings fans and their organization hope that Kronwall can step into even a bigger role than just a heavy hitter. Lidstrom was a power play quarterback and natural calming force for every player in red and white on the ice. He was soft spoken but highly respected. He was simply a go-to guy when the team called upon him. Can Kronwall be that guy?
If the Wings are to remain elite then it is time for Kronwall to graduate to the top tier of defensemen in the NHL. He has put up respectable offensive production in the past even with limited power play time, and although his big hits can pull him out of position, he has been relatively solid on the defensive side of the puck. Perhaps the keys to Kronwall’s graduation to elite defenseman is a mix of extended power play time and a few less big hits that can lead to fast breaks for the opposing teams.
Time will tell once the season gets under way if Kronwall is ready for his new responsibilities. For the Red Wing faithful, however, that graduation needs to come sooner than later.