DETROIT – Jakub Kindl made the most of his minutes in 2014-15.
Appearing in just 35 games, the Red Wings’ defenseman achieved new goal-scoring highs and provided a major boost in production from the blue line. In his fifth season, Kindl came into the lineup and had an immediate impact on games.
A healthy scratch for the majority of the season, Kindl spent much of the season retooling his game and honing his skills in practice. When called upon though, the veteran defenseman came into the game with a splash producing some of his best performances after being sidelined for an extended period of time.
On Feb. 21, in a game against the Dallas Stars, Kindl was thrust into the lineup after Kyle Quincey was scratched with an ankle injury. The game was Kindl’s first glimpse of action in nearly two months, as he had been out of the lineup for the previous 20 games.
Showing no signs of rust, the 6-foot-3, 199-pound defenseman scored back-to-back goals just 1:15 apart in the third period, propelling the Wings back into the game and tying it at 4-4. Kindl’s contribution would be critical, as the team needed every bit of offense to overpower the Stars, 7-6 in overtime.
Again with limited action, the 28-year-old was called upon on March 24, when top-pair D-man Niklas Kronwall was a late scratch with a lower-body injury. Kindl logged 16:18 of ice time including 4:02 on the power play, producing a goal and an assist. The goal was crucial tying the game at 3-3 early in the third period and allowing his team to earn a point in a 5-4 overtime loss.
Kindl had been a scratch for 10 games leading up to that appearance.
Being able to step up and produce when his number is called is not as easy as he made it look, producing two of his best performances after coming into the lineup on short notice.
“That’s really difficult, I mean it’s kinda that thing where you’ve been cold and haven’t been able to get in that groove, but he’s been working hard in practice,” defensemn Brendan Smith said. “I think that’s where he’s elevated his game so that when he jumps into the game he’s been playing well but it is tough, it’s tough for anybody to sit a long time, even produce, and then kinda get kicked out of the lineup. It’s a tough thing to do and that’s why I admire how he’s been lately around the room and not just lately, all year, just how he is and his aura, he’s charismatic, all that stuff. He’s showing he hasn’t been moping or pouting about it. It’s pretty impressive to see.”
The defensive corps remained quite healthy for the Wings this season, as five of the top six appeared in at least 73 games this season. Given that good fortune in addition to the acquisition of veteran Marek Zidlicky at the trade deadline, Kindl spent much of the season as the odd man out of the equation. He didn’t let that discourage him though, as Kindl made the most of his chances and produced when given the opportunity achieving a new career high with five goals. He also had an impact on the team’s power-play unit, producing a career-high two goals and seven points on the man advantage.
“I think he’s been playing great every time he’s been in the lineup,” Smith said. “Here’s the thing that I really like about Jakub, is that he knows he’s not gonna be in the lineup but he still gives it everything in practice and he’s got a smile on his face. He doesn’t pout. That’s what you have to have as a pro and I like that. I think that helps everybody. That helps his cause. I think he’s been playing great when he is out there, I mean he’s got a lot of skill. That’s what you wanna have him show but I just think all in all, his game without the puck has gotten better. I think he’s gotten tougher and stronger. It’s tough with some of the changes that we’ve had and injuries and stuff that he hasn’t been able to get the chances. Us getting Zidlicky, that’s obviously a tough bounce but I mean if any one of our D went down, we’re not afraid to throw him in there because he’s played really well.”