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Hronek must decide where to play next

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Although Red Wings draftee Filip Hronek is very mobile and skilled, the right-hand defenseman is also too light, listed at 6-feet and 163 pounds. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – Filip Hronek is at a bit of a crossroads.

The Wings selected the young, right-shot defenseman with their second of two second-round picks, 53rd overall, in last month's NHL draft.

The Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) then selected Hronek with the 14th pick in the 2016 CHL import draft.

Hronek, 18, who has played in his native Czech Republic his entire hockey career, has to decide if he would like to try playing in the United States.

"He's got a contract in Czech Republic right now," said Jiri Fischer, the Wings' director of player development. "The head coach (Spencer Carbery), general manager (Dave Drinkill) and the president of Saginaw, they're coming in to watch him. They know that Filip is a very good player and they're going to try to explain their developmental process, which has been overhauled by hiring several new key people in the organization. They just hired new skills coaches a couple days ago. They try to do a good job in Saginaw how they approach the player development process so we'll see how Filip's going to fall into their plan."

The Spirit hired Brandon Naurato and Sean Perkins from Total Package Hockey to be their skill development coaches.

There are a few benefits to playing in the United States for Hronek.

He could get accustomed to the smaller playing surface, he could improve his English-speaking skills and he would be closer to the Wings' player development staff.

Fischer has seen his fellow Czech native Hronek play before.

"He did really well at one of the earlier tournaments that led to world juniors," Fischer said. "He was one of the best defensemen on the Czech team, being undrafted. We were able to draft him in the second round."

Although Hronek is very mobile and skilled, he is also too light, listed at 6-feet and 163 pounds.

"He really has to work on his strength, he's going to have to put on quite a bit of weight of muscle which will hopefully come with strength and power," Fischer said.

Hronek and all of the Wings' 2016 draft picks are taking part in this week’s development camp at Traverse City's Centre Ice Arena.

"This was pretty much his first time practicing at high speed on small ice," Fischer said. "The only time he's been exposed to North American size of ice is last summer when he was training in Montreal for a little bit. Now with pressure and lots of people watching, now he's sizing himself up against his peers within our organization.

"The boards snuck up on him a couple times and he ran out of space and tripped. Another learning experience. I'm excited when players get to experience new things. I love when they make mistakes and we really have to make sure mistakes get corrected and don't turn into bad habits."

Wherever Hronek ends up playing this coming season, Fischer expects him to be a good player in the long run.

"I expect him to be a very mobile, hard to play against with the way he takes space away with his skating, the way he uses the angles on the ice," Fischer said. "He's got a pretty good shot."

Joe Hicketts

CAMP NOTEBOOK: Defensemen Joe Hicketts (illness) and Alfons Malmstrom (doctor's clearance) returned to the ice Thursday.

Forwards Dominic Turgeon (right shoulder surgery) and Axel Holmstrom (knee) remain limited.

"Just talked with him, he’s very eager to get back on the ice but once again we gotta make sure – and he understands this – he has to be healed up and ready to go," Grand Rapids Griffins coach Todd Nelson said of Turgeon.

Nelson said the second day of development camp was a bit different than the first.

"Yesterday our skills session was average," Nelson said. "I thought for the first day but we had an excellent practice. Then today I thought our skills sessions were excellent and our practice was average. So tomorrow I think it’s all going to come together."

The Wings will hold a brief morning skills session and then have an evening scrimmage.

"We’ll see some things where, 'Wow, that’s going to look next year or this coming year with whatever team he plays for,' " Nelson said. "I think the scrimmage sessions will be a very good indicator for us to see where guys are at moving forward."

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