Fantasy Hockey Forensics: Niklas Kronwall
Welcome to Life after Nick. It may not be so pretty in MoTown this shortened season, with a quick turnaround for which to now transition into a Lidstrom-less blue line, something that regulars Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader & rook, Brendan Smith were in cribs for the last time this was the case. The much documented gradual deterioration of the rearguard club at Joe Louis is now complete, which only a few years ago boasted Saint Nick himself, fellow future Hall of famer Chris Chelios, Brian Rafalski, Brad Stuart and in the earlier years of the dynasty, the likes of Slava Fetisov, Vlad Konstantinov et al. This current defensive group may no longer possess a who's who lineup of stars, but still does have a carefully long-timed groomed Ace-In-The-Hole nonetheless, in Niklas Kronwall.
Kronner, now the 'made man' in HockeyTown, will be given more opportunity and ice time than ever before as the Winged Wheel's unquestioned leader from the blue line corps. He doesn't necessarily excel offensively amongst the NHL's elite d-men producers, who at 37 points in 2011-2012, was more than doubled by fellow Norris winning countryman Erik Karlsson's 77 for context according to Frozen Pools Report Generator.
He is still situated in good company and with increased opportunities on both the powerplay and even strength, his potential is only going to shift higher. However, aside from his offensive exploits, Niklas is perhaps better known for his fiery crushing shutdown, box-out style of play. He's even provided reason for his legions to fashion the term "Kronwalling" in honour of his bone-crushing body checking tendencies. On that note, with the departure of Brad Stuart this past off-season, Detroit's most punishing hitter will now also become the team leader in quantity of hits as well, as shown by the FP Hits By Defensemen per team report generator for the Detroit Red Wings' 2011-2012 season.
Despite being upgraded to full time top pairing billing, Niklas will also need to get acclimated to a less familiar partner going forward. As you can see in the Most Frequent Line Combination chart below from last season, he spent over 70% of his time with either Brad Stuart on Even strength and shorthanded or with newly retired Nicklas Lidstrom on the powerplay. Whether it be Lidstrom's final understudy, Ian White, who remains on the first line or Jonathan Ericsson who's elevated to the top pairing, he'll need to gel with quickly.
At the end of the day, Kronwall will have enormous shoes to fill and not one sole in their right mind is expecting him to come close to filling the void left by Lidstrom. Although he is still in good company, and under arguably the league's best organization, with a fairly strong core considering the constraints of today's cap world. It’s time for Kronvall to take his game to another level. My money is on him to do so, increasing all of his peripheral stats in the process to career highs,
He better get used to the passing of the torch from Lidstrom from a leadership perspective as next winter he'll surely be asked to do the same thing for the Tre Konor in Sochi. At the Olympics, Sweden's head honchos, will also ask him to provide wisdom, physicality and some offensive punch from the blue line alongside young superstar Erik Karlsson.
Detroit's 21 year playoff streak may be in serious jeopardy should Kronvall not stay healthy all season, so he may need to pick his spots a little more carefully when running over opponents. Although expect him to rise to the occasion like so many Red Wing greats before him.
(Give Anthony Lancione a follow on Twitter @Anthisdaman)
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