DETROIT -- When NHL teams look for a perfect top-two defenseman, they imagine a player who is reliable, smart, mentally tough and incredibly skilled. For the Detroit Red Wings, Filip Hronek provides all that and more as the Czech blueliner continues to find his niche in his young NHL career.
In just his second full NHL season in 2020-21, Hronek led the Red Wings in points (26), assists (24), power-play points (11) and average ice time (23:23), and he tied for the team lead in games played as one of two Wings players to skate in all 56 games, along with Marc Staal.
Hronek was selected by Detroit in the second round (53rd overall) in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, and after just one-plus season with the Red Wings' AHL-affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins, Hronek earned a spot on Detroit's 2018-19 opening night roster and made his NHL debut on October 4, 2018.
The 6-foot, 183-pound defenseman played sporadically in his rookie season, going back and forth between Detroit and Grand Rapids, but Hronek showed flashes of his potential in his first NHL go-round, earning 23 points in just 46 games.
In 2019-20, Hronek again earned a spot on the Red Wings' roster out of training camp and at just 22 years of age, the defenseman eagerly accepted a full-time role in Detroit, skating in 65 of the Wings' 71 games and leading the club in average ice time at 23:54 per game.
Video: CAR@DET: Hronek goes length of ice for late ENG
Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said he's been impressed with Hronek's maturity as he's been thrust into a critical role at such a young age.
"He's been forced to really 'trial by fire.' He's been thrown into the mix big time, and it's a hard thing to do," Blashill said in late April. "You don't have a veteran defenseman that can carry you along as you make mistakes. He's got to sink or swim on a nightly basis, and enough nights, he's swam and he's grown."
The Red Wings coach said he respects Hronek's hunger and will to win, and said he appreciates Hronek's ability to play in all situations, skating on the man advantage and penalty kill, usually going head to head against teams' best players.
"Filip wants to be a good player, he wants to win, so he's working towards getting better in all the areas of the game, the power play, penalty kill and 5-on-5," Blashill said. "There's areas of growth there. He knows that and he's going to keep working towards it."
Blashill said the biggest key to Hronek's continued development is bringing his A-game on a consistent basis while stepping up as a quarterback on the power play.
"Him and I have talked about making sure that he eliminates any big minuses," Blashill said. "So make sure on a consistent basis, night to night he's doing a good job of not giving away any easy chances. And finding a way to push our power play to being better.
"It's just growing as a player and he certainly has taken steps from when he first got here."
Video: CBJ@DET: Hronek sends puck down ice into empty net
Red Wings executive vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman agreed with Blashill about Hronek's development and improvement during his time in Hockeytown.
Yzerman said Hronek and 22-year-old forward Michael Rasmussen took the biggest steps among the Red Wings' young stars this past season.
"I see a difference in their play from a year ago," Yzerman said. "They are having more of an impact in each situation they're in. They're not regressing. You can see when guys are really competing and asserting themselves, regardless of what their statistics are, they are having a positive impact."
After the 2020-21 season, the Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic native represented his country at the 2021 IIHF World Championship in Latvia and continued his impressive year.
Hronek, who was named the best defenseman of the 2019 World Championship, earned a goal and three assists in seven games this year for Team Czech Republic and led his team to the tournament quarterfinals before suffering a 1-0 loss to Team Finland.
Despite the disappointing loss and early exit from the tournament, Hronek once again displayed his abilities on the world stage and proved he can thrive against some of the best players in the world.
The defenseman will become a restricted free agent for the first time in his career this summer, but Detroit's front office has expressed no interest in parting ways with Hronek as he continues to improve and develop.
Hronek will turn 24 less a month into the 2021-22 campaign and all signs indicate he'll be better than ever next season.
"Fil is a tremendous competitor. He's a good hockey player. He's been really, really good, he's really competed hard," Blashill said. "He's going to try to fight to be on the ice as much as he can. He's going to go out and play as well as possible."