BUFFALO, N.Y. – For the last seven months, Daniel Alfredsson has appreciated what some outsiders don’t usually get to see in Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall.
“He’s one of those guys who is underrated, maybe, all around the league,” Alfredsson said. “Until you see him day in and day out you don’t realize how invaluable he is.”
The Red Wings certainly see the value in Kronwall, especially since Nicklas Lidstrom retired. Kronwall became more of a leader out of necessity when injuries forced forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk out of the lineup. The same was true when Zetterberg pulled out of the Sochi Olympics vacating Sweden’s captaincy.
Kronwall took over the role as captain after the Olympic opener and helped lead Sweden to a silver medal finish.
“It’s a great honor and it shows how much, not just how the Red Wings think of him, but also the national team,” Alfredsson said. “He’s been one of the most professional players that I’ve been around with the way he handles himself on and off the ice.
“He brings a consistency with him night in and night out, and he expects himself to be the best that he can be every night. He prepares that way and now it’s magnified when those guys have been out for periods of a time and he’s been a huge impact on us being in the position that we are in.”
Kronwall’s contributions go much deeper than his statistics show. David Legwand’s 50 points aside, Kronwall is tied with Zetterberg for the team’s point lead (48). And should Kronwall finish ahead of his teammates in the point race he will become the first defenseman to lead Detroit in points for a full, unabbreviated season.
Rarely is Kronwall included in conversations about the league’s top defensemen, which, fair or not, is usually reserved for the top point producers like the last two Norris Trophy winners – Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson and Montreal’s P.K. Subban. But while Kronwall won’t draw comparisons to Lidstrom’s flawless style, the 10-year pro has doubled his role as the team’s top shutdown defenseman and a competent leader for the young blue liners to emulate.
“Kronner does it right each and every day and he’s a guy you should be following,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “That’s another issue sometimes with young guys, are they following the right people? You got to pick out the right people and the people you want to model after and make sure you’re doing it right. Kronner is the guy, he does it right every day, it’s not about Nik Kronwall – ever. It’s about the best decisions for the team. He plays hard, he’s committed, he does things right. To me he’s excellent.”
Kronwall is among the league’s top 10 point producers this season. He’s been relatively healthy, missing just two games with a concussion in October, and he continues to quarterback Detroit’s power play. But what makes him standout among his peers – and actually places him in an exclusive club – is his extraordinary production of compiling at least 48 points with 145 blocked shots and 90-plus hits. Only Nashville’s Shea Weber can claim similar all-around numbers.
“He’s been around the organization for the longest out of the D, so we can really learn from him,” defenseman Danny DeKeyser said. “He shows from his play every night that he’s here to play every night and he’s willing to block shots, make hits and he’s willing to do all of the little things to help the team.”
Last month, Kronwall played nearly half the game in a 2-1 shootout victory over Edmonton, logging a season-high 30:20 minutes of ice time. He also has the team’s longest assist streak at five straight games when he collected seven helpers from Nov. 23 to Dec. 1.
For a young player like DeKeyser, watching the 33-year-old Kronwall is a learning experience.
“He’s one of the top defensemen in the league,” DeKeyser said. “Younger guys like me can kind of learn from him by just watching him and how he composes himself on the ice and how he’s calm under pressure.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose