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New role is big honor for Kronwall

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – It wasn’t long after Niklas Kronwall was named an alternate captain for the 2011-12 season, that the Red Wings defenseman received a message from his predecessor.

“I texted him to congratulate him the minute that I heard,” said former Wings center Kris Draper, who wore the ‘A’ last season. “Even last year there were times when he stood up on the bench and had some things to say. I think it’s a great choice to give it to Nik. It was coming, and it’s important for this team to have a new voice, and a different voice. … He’s making great strides.”

Like Draper, Kronwall will be in a two-player rotation of ‘A’ wearers with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.

“It’s a big honor, first of all, with the history and the tradition behind everything here,” Kronwall said. “I feel very proud. Now I have look ahead and take another step in my career and take my game to another level.”

Kronwall is no stranger to having a leadership role, although it has been a while, he said. Kronwall was the captain for Team Sweden in the 2001 World Junior Championships in Moscow.

But now, with the recent retirements of many of the old guard like Draper, Kirk Maltby, Chris Osgood, it’s a perfect time for Kronwall to ascend into a leader position in the NHL. And from the Wings’ perspective, it makes sense that they follow a natural progression when picking leaders on the ice and in the locker room.

When Steve Yzerman retired after the 2005-06 season, it was a logical decision to select Lidstrom as Stevie Y’s captaincy successor. For years, the two were teammates and together they helped bring three Stanley Cups to Detroit. Lidstrom learned from Yzerman, and when it was his turn to assume the ‘C’ on the front of his sweater, Lidstrom did so seamlessly, leading the Wings to another Cup title in 2008.

Now, Kronwall has been asked to take his leadership role to another level. And while he knows that it’s impossible to replace Draper’s intangibles, he will do his best to help lead this team.

“I think I need to work on being a little bit more vocal in the locker room,” Kronwall admitted. “Drapes was a big part of this team, not only on the ice, but he was a huge part in the locker room. He brought a lot of energy, so of course, I can’t try to copy someone else, but I can try to be myself and be a little more vocal than I have been in the past.

“Being vocal, I think that comes with experience and being comfortable around the guys. I think a lot of these guys are leaders among themselves, and I think you try to help out in any way that you can.”

The 30-year-old Kronwall has already been given a bigger role on the ice. Lidstrom’s not getting any younger, and Kronwall will again be expected to take on more ice-time, which he began to do last season.

Kronwall is in the final season of a five-year contract. He is one of nine current Wings, who can become unrestricted free agents next July. Kronwall’s priority has been to stay in Detroit, and general manager Ken Holland has made it known that the Wings want him back.

“He’s been here a long time now, and he needs to make that next step,” said forward Tomas Holmstrom, referring to Kronwall. “For sure, he’s a leader on the ice, and off of the ice he’s been maturing a lot. He’s been growing as a player. He’s really mature with the puck and he makes good decisions. He’s just got to stay healthy and I think he’s going to have his best year.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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