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Kronwall hopes strong finish carries over to next season

Veteran Wing looks forward to mentoring young defensemen

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT -- The word that his Red Wings teammates use the most when talking about him is warrior.

Defenseman Niklas Kronwall has fought through his chronic knee problems to remain an effective player.

In the previous two seasons, Kronwall missed a combined 42 games.

This past season, he missed only the first three games before returning to play the final 79 games, averaging 18:31 per game.

"I guess in a nutshell, just less load," Kronwall said the day the Wings cleaned out their lockers. "Didn't lift as much every week. Had one lift day a week instead of several, as I'd done in the past. Just less pounding on the joints on a weekly basis. Just doing alternative stuff. More stuff in the pool and things like that. That's what gave me the opportunity to play this year and I'm hoping it's gonna do the same thing for next year."

Kronwall, 37, ended the season with a six-game point streak, the longest by any Red Wings player this season. It tied for Kronwall's best in five years.

"Last year, it was a struggle to even watch him go through what he did, but that shows if you do the right things and you meet the right people during the summer and you work hard, you can come back stronger and healthier, and he did," captain Henrik Zetterberg said. "You saw it this year, not just the way he played the games he did, but how he was able to push himself, too, and become stronger. I'm really happy to see it. Hopefully he'll have another good summer."

On March 27 against Pittsburgh, Kronwall scored a goal for his 400th career point, the 104th defenseman in league history to reach that milestone.

That goal was also the 80th of Kronwall's career, tying him for fourth place in franchise history in goals by a defenseman with Marcel Pronovost.

"It's pretty amazing to see," fellow Swede Gustav Nyquist said. "He's obviously one of our big leaders in this room. Just the work he puts in to get himself ready to play every game this year, and the work he's put in during the past and just in the previous year now to get back. He had a lot of struggles there and to come back and play the way he did, it's fun to see and it's good to see for a lot of the young guys, including me when I got here. My first couple of years, he was the one I've probably never seen anyone work as hard as him. It's impressive to see."

Kronwall finished with four goals, 23 assists and was minus-14.

His 27 points were second only to Mike Green's 33 among Red Wings defensemen.

Although the team was much healthier, the Wings failed to make the playoffs for the second straight season.

"Last year, we talked about guys having down years," Kronwall said. "The standings don't lie. We are where we're at. It doesn't matter if we in here feel like we're a better team than what our record shows. Our record, you can't deny it. It is what it is. We are where we're at. Also, people talk about all these one-goal losses, but we found ways to lose those. We didn't find ways to win those. That's something that has to change in the future."

Although Kronwall hates missing the playoffs, he does see some encouraging signs from the young players making strides.

"I do think some of it is experience," Kronwall said. "Younger guys, even though we didn't make the playoffs, I do think it was a very important year for them. I do think they took steps, definitely big steps in the right direction. That's encouraging to see. So looking back, this was a good experience for them and in saying that, all us older guys, we have to be as good as we possible can. There were nights where I wasn't. That can't happen. We have to be better than we were."

Red Wings general manager Ken Holland has said he has to rebuild the defense and Kronwall agrees with that assessment.

"No doubt about that. I definitely think with where we are at as a team, we've seen some changes up front," Kronwall said. "Definitely ready, and I think it's time for these young guys on D to take another step and get a shot at playing for the team here. Again, it starts with hard work. Have a good camp, but both (Filip) Hronek and (Dennis) Cholowski seem to have really good years. It will be awesome and I very much look forward to watching them play."

Hronek, 20, was named to the AHL's All-Rookie team as he recorded 11 goals, 28 assists and was plus-24 in 67 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

Cholowski, 20, made the Western Hockey League All-Star team. Cholowski had 13 goals, 26 assists and was plus-nine in 37 games with the Prince George Cougars.

After being traded to the Portland Winterhawks, he had one goal, 26 assists and was plus-20 in 32 regular-season games. In 12 playoff games with Portland, Cholowski had five goals, two assists and was minus-nine.

Kronwall said he looks forward to mentoring some of the young defensemen as they ascend.

"I think it's awesome when you have guys coming up," Kronwall said. "And I think obviously with where we are at, we're destined to have some young players, especially on D, taking steps. We've seen (Dylan Larkin), (Anthony Mantha), (Andreas Athanasiou), (Tyler Bertuzzi), we've seen some guys up front, and I think it's definitely time for the back end to also get rejuvenated with some young players."

As with Zetterberg, Kronwall knows that his career is closer to the end than the beginning, but he is not ready to retire as he has one year left on his contract and he feels better than he has in previous seasons.

"The last two seasons after the year, I wasn't really sure what was going to come out of the training," Kronwall said. "That part I do feel like if I stick with the program and do what gave me a chance to play this year, I'll be just fine. Hopefully tweak the training regimen a little bit and make it even better.

"I don't think it'll be any different than it was last year. I'm trying to train as hard as I possibly can and just be ready to go come training camp."

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