Sunday, September 20, 2009

2009-2010 Player Profiles: Niklas Kronwall...

OK, it’s that time of year. Hockey’s so close that you can almost taste it. By my count, there are 12 days remaining before the Wings kick off their season in Sweden (which is still entirely too many, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel). In order to pass the time, I’ll be posting a player profile every day until then (in alphabetical order, because I’m one of those people). I want to make it very clear that these are not predictions, because I do not, under any circumstance, make predictions. They’re simply my thoughts on each player’s performances last season, and my hopes and expectations for them this time around. Today’s subject:

Niklas Kronwall

2008-2009 Regular Season: 80 GP, 6-45-51, +/- 2, 50 PIM
2009 Playoffs: 23 GP, 2-7-9, +/- 4, 33 PIM

Season Highlight: Destroying Martin Havlat.
Season Lowlight: The Crossbar (Warning: watching this may make you nauseous).

Kronwall had a somewhat average season last year. He struggled at times, and seemed to fall victim to the general defensive malaise that plagued the whole team much of the time. It’s not that he was terrible, it’s just that he had set such high expectations with his play in the ’08 playoff run that it was hard to live up to them. He did, however, step things up once again during the playoffs, and he and his partner, Brad Stuart, provided a solid second pairing. This was absolutely essential considering the injuries that the defense suffered during the run. Not to mention the fact that his absolute annihilation of Martin Havlat was one of the most memorable moments of the postseason.

This year, he needs to find the level of consistency that he was lacking last season. As Lidstrom and Rafalski are getting older, the Wings are going to be relying more and more on him to play a prominent role on their defense. He’s long been slated as the heir apparent to Lidstrom’s spot on the top pairing, and he needs to continue making progress toward that lofty goal. I’m expecting his defensive statistics and plus/minus to pick up this season thanks to a team-wide commitment to playing solid defense. We can also look forward to at least a handful of those devastating open-ice hits that he’s becoming known for. Overall, I’m expecting good things from Kronwall this season, as he’s coming into his prime and seems to gel perfectly with Stuart’s playing style. I also like to think that that shot he rang off of the crossbar in Game 7 has been gnawing at him all summer the same way that it’s been giving me nightmares and nervous tics.

What he needs to do to make me happy: Lots of big hits. There are few things in hockey more fun to watch than one of his freight-train-like open ice checks.

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