Red Wings' Niklas Kronwall 'a realist'; this could be his final season

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Niklas Kronwall

Detroit — All the questions regarding Henrik Zetterberg’s future has taken some of the speculation away from his buddy, defenseman Niklas Kronwall.

Kronwall, who’ll be 38 in January, is entering the last year of his contract. The defenseman has dealt with a damaged knee, which led him to get stem-cell therapy the previous summer and change his offseason regimen. He's continued to play with persistent pain.

Still, Kronwall played in 79 games last season — more than most expected — and he rarely missed practice. Kronwall said Thursday he feels as good as he did last season.

But that all doesn’t change Kronwall’s belief that, in all likelihood, this could be his final NHL season.

“I’m a realist,” Kronwall said. “The game is getting younger and faster and I am where I’m at (physically). We’ll see how this year plays out. But this could be, may very well be, my last season, and if that’s the case, I’m going to do whatever I can to make it a good one.”

More:Zetterberg's uncertain future weighs heavy in Red Wings locker room

Kronwall had “minor aches and pains” while during the summer while getting ready, but nothing that cut short his training – unlike Zetterberg’s trouble back issues.

“It’s been a pretty good summer that way,” Kronwall said. “Things are going pretty good and I’m excited to do the work again.”

Kronwall averaged over 18 minutes of ice time (18:31), while posting 27 points (4 goals, 23 assists) in those 79 games.

The fact Kronwall played as much as he did, and actually felt better as the season progressed, gives him optimism there’s no need for coach Jeff Blashill to consider lessening Kronwall’s role.

“My expectations, as of right now anyway, is just practice and play however much I can,” Kronwall said. “Last year, for the first time in a few years, I actually felt pretty good, so I’m hoping that continues. I didn’t change much in the offseason, I was able to train the way I wanted to, so as it goes right now, all my focus is starting training camp next week and we’ll go from there.”

Big step

Fans are excited about the likelihood of forwards Michael Rasmussen and Filip Zadina, the past two Wings’ first-round draft picks, jumping into the lineup this season.

Both had outstanding junior seasons, and Rasmussen, a 2017 draft pick, had an impressive training camp last year.

Both are penciled into the lineup currently, but given the ages (Rasmussen is 19 and Zadina, 18) of the two players, and their lack of professional experience, expectations probably need to be realistic.

“It’s a big step,” said forward Justin Abdelkader, of going directly from junior to NHL hockey. “Physically, mentally, the grind of 82 games. You come up to the NHL where everyone can skate, everyone is big, guys are big and fast, the goalies are better. There’s just not much time and space anymore (on the ice) out there.”

Prospects camp

Defenseman Dennis Cholowski, forward Joe Veleno, Rasmussen and Zadina,are recent first-round picks who are part of the Wings’ team at the Prospects Camp that begins Friday in Traverse City.

Eight teams — the Wings, Chicago, Carolina, Columbus, Dallas, Minnesota, New York Rangers and St. Louis — take part in the tournament, now in its 20th year at Centre ICE Arena, which is deep in talent, said general manager Ken Holland.

“You look at this tournament, this might be the best group of prospects that the tournament has had in a long time,” Holland said. “It just so happens a lot of the teams that are in this tournament missed the playoffs.

“There’s going to be a lot of good, real good, young players on all the teams. So, it’s an opportunity to evaluate our young players, and to see how our players play against their peer group.

“Certainly a big part of our future is on this team (representing the Wings). There are a lot of players we think are going to be important to this franchise down the road.”

The Wings play Minnesota Friday at 7 p.m., Dallas Saturday (7 p.m.) and the Rangers Monday (4 p.m.). Each of the games will be broadcast on the Fox Sports Go app, and the Red Wings’ website.