Grand Rapids — The Red Wings wanted young defenseman Filip Hronek to get stronger and gain weight.
Hronek only weighed about 160 pounds when he was drafted in the second round in 2016. He wasn’t going to survive without adding some muscle.
So Hronek attacked the weight room, and the Czech Republic native also began eating.
“Now, I’m 180 (pounds),” said Hronek this week after a Grand Rapids Griffins practice, noticeably stronger through the shoulders and chest. “I tried to work hard (weightlifting), and spend time in the gym.
“And just eat. Pizza and burgers, American things.”
Hronek, 20, smiled at his joke, which in itself was an indication of how far his English has come along since being drafted.
Hronek can handle an interview so much better now, and that’s not where the improvement ends.
On the ice, Hronek likely surpassed the expectations of many analysts or members in the Red Wings organization.
Hronek’s four-point game in the regular season finale gave him 39 (11 goals, 28 assists) for the season, tying Robbie Russo (2015-16) for most by a Griffins rookie defenseman. Hronek’s 11 goals were the most since Ryan Sproul had 11 goals in 2013-14.
Hronek accomplishments earned him a well deserved spot on the AHL’s all-rookie team.
Griffins coach Todd Nelson was impressed with how Hronek kept elevating his performance throughout the long season.
“I didn’t think he’d develop as quickly as he has, which is great,” Nelson said. “From Christmas on to now, he’s been playing his best hockey. Maybe a month ago I thought, ‘Man, he’s really developed, he’s playing extremely well for us, not just the offensive numbers but you look at his plus-minus, he’s playing well defensively’.
“And when I thought he’d be peaking, he cranked it up another gear last month, and that’s great for us and the organization. He runs the No. 1 power-play unit, and he’s been one of our go-to guys.
“He’s put himself in that position, so that’s a great story.”
The adjustment of going from junior to pro hockey, along with a glut of defensemen in Grand Rapids in the early going, made getting into the lineup difficult for Hronek.
But gradually it all began to work out. The Red Wings made trades to reduce the logjam, and near the halfway mark of the season, Hronek began earning the trust of Nelson and the coaching staff.
“Guys are stronger, faster and smarter (in the AHL),” Hronek said of the adjustment from junior hockey where Hronek starred in Saginaw. “You have to make (quick) decisions.
“The start was hard, it was tough to get tempo (with lack of playing time), and trust from the coach. Then when I started to feel comfortable, I was feeling better.”
Hronek credits veteran defenseman Brian Lashoff in his development, specifically off the ice.
“The biggest part was Brian Lashoff with videos,” Hronek said. “He showed me some things I can do better in the game. It helped me a lot.”
Watching video is one of the ways Hronek is a student of the game, Nelson said. Hronek is always looking for ways to improve.
Nelson also wanted Hronek to become a consistent force in the corners and in front of the net — never mind his 180-pound build — and Hronek has done exactly that.
“The offensive part stands out, but I didn’t know how he’d handle the battles the corners and in front of the net and he’s handled that extremely well,” Nelson said. “Better than expected. That was one part he wanted to work on, and give him credit, he’s a student of the game.
“He’s learned over the course of the year when he’s up against bigger guys how to use his stick, his body in those confrontations (in corners, in front of net) and that took some time. But right now, you feel real comfortable putting him out there in key situations late in the game.
“He’s earned that right.”
Calder Cup playoffs
Central Division semifinals
Grand Rapids Griffins vs. Manitoba Moose
Saturday: at Manitoba, 3 p.m.
Sunday: at Manitoba, 3 p.m.
Wednesday: at Grand Rapids, 7 p.m.
x-Thursday: at Grand Rapids, 7 p.m.
x-Monday, April 30: at Grand Rapids, 7 p.m.