DETROIT - It's been more than six months since he played in a game, but Niklas Kronwall is finally ready to make his season debut.
Kronwall, 35, has been battling chronic knee issues.
"The biggest thing is he obviously hasn't played in a while, so we just need him to come in and manage his minutes and slowly get him into playing at his highest speed, but he has been practicing for a while," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "We haven't had a chance to have lots of full practices so it's not an easy situation for him. I think the No. 1 thing with Nik Kronwall is getting his presence and leadership back in the lineup. He's a big-time winner, he's a big-time warrior and having him back in our lineup is a positive thing."
The veteran defenseman said this night has been a long time coming.
"I don't know if I'm nervous, but I'm very excited," Kronwall said. "It's been feeling good now for the past few weeks. I'm skating harder and harder a little more and got to the point where it feels like it's ready."
Kronwall said he does not expect to have any limitations in terms of what he can do, although he knows he probably has some rust to shake off.
"I'm sure there will some, timing issues and things like that in different situations, two-on-ones and three-on-twos, gap control, things like that," Kronwall said. "It's also hard because we haven't had that many practices. A lot of that is hard to get in practice, where everything feels more controlled. You got to get into games and get a feel for that."
But the team will be monitoring Kronwall closely, especially with the condensed schedule and so many back-to-back games.
"I think we have to wait and see the health of the knee and where he's at," Blashill said. "When Nik was playing his best he was one of the best D-men in the league for my money. He was very good offensively and very good defensively. Not very many guys have that package. Obviously, it's a big boost if we can get Nik playing at that level. I think the biggest thing from my perspective is I'd like to see Nik play as many healthy games as he can. He doesn't need to play every game. If the knee is reacting, then we just got to make sure he's in as many healthy games as possible."
In the morning skate, Kronwall was paired with Brendan Smith and was also on the top power-play unit along with Mike Green.
"Kronner was on the back side there and he's got a real good ability to shoot the puck off that side and he's got good ability to go to the net when the puck's on the opposite side," Blashill said. "He's kind of a rover that way, does a good job in that spot. Just gives us a real good, smart power play player. A lot of times with the power play, the smarter you are offensively as a group the more success you have and he's a very smart power play player."
Last season Kronwall had three goals and 23 assists in 64 games, missing several weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery. It was a frustrating time for Kronwall.
"Definitely I want to get back to hopefully who I am," Kronwall said. "Last year I didn't feel like I had a very good season, so I'd like to get back to keeping it simple and making the right plays out there. That's what I'm working towards."
Just two seasons ago Kronwall had nine goals and 35 assists in 80 games.
Kronwall is also an alternate captain and shares many of the qualities that make captain Henrik Zetterberg a leader.
"I think they've just been through so many situations," Blashill said. "They're both, I would say, calm people. I think when the pressure gets ratcheted up, they stay very poised. They've been through Stanley Cups, they've been through Olympics, they just know how to handle those situations so that part of it along with his leadership and just his overall mentality is a real boost to our lineup."
Xavier Ouellet, who had played the last two games, will be the odd man out with Kronwall's return.
YOUNG JETS: With an average age of 25.75, the Winnipeg Jets are the second-youngest team in the league.
That includes Patrik Laine, the second overall pick in this past summer's NHL Entry Draft.
Laine, 18, is tied with Toronto's Auston Matthews and the New York Rangers' Jimmy Vesey for the rookie lead in goals with six. He's tied for fourth in rookie scoring with Toronto's Mitchell Marner, Philadelphia's Travis Konecny and Columbus' Zach Werenski with eight points.
The Jets played Thursday night in Washington, falling in overtime, 4-3.
"They showed a lot of guts last night," Blashill said. "I watched the game last night. To get down 3-0 against that team in that building, to come back and get the point, I know they would have liked to have two but they showed tons of resolve and kept coming hard. Last night I thought the (Mark) Scheifele line was great, the second half of the game specifically, I thought that line was great. Obviously they've had some injury issues here, which is a hard thing in this league, but you have guys throughout your lineup up front that can do some damage so it'll be a good test for us."
It was the third time this season that the Jets had erased a three-goal deficit. Three Michigan natives play for the Jets, rookie forward Kyle Connor of Shelby Township, goaltender Connor Hellebuyck of Commerce and forward Andrew Copp of Ann Arbor.
Connor played for the University of Michigan last season, Copp played for Michigan from 2012-15.
Michael Hutchinson was in goal Thursday so Hellebuyck is likely to start against the Wings tonight.