Red Wings' Niklas Kronwall has always led; now it's more important

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Red Wings veteran defenseman Niklas Kronwall hopes to see action in a couple preseason games.

Detroit — Niklas Kronwall has provided a lot of leadership for the Red Wings throughout his 14 seasons, and a bad knee has limited his mobility for several.

As he prepares for a new season, Kronwall’s leadership will be more important, with Henrik Zetterberg ending his career on long term injured reserve.

And, Kronwall’s knee is a bit better — at least for now.

Some improvement at the end of last season led to better performance on the ice, including an offensive spurt. And, Kronwall said, it allowed him to work out through the entire summer, for the first time in a while.

“So far, since I’ve gone on the ice, I feel pretty good, actually,” said the 37-year-old defenseman, who is the last regular from the 2008 Stanley Cup championship team.

“If it can stay this way, I’d take it.”

But do not expect much change in a player who many younger Red Wings consider a rock of stability and an enforcer of responsibility.

Regardless of Zetterberg’s departure, Kronwall said his approach is likely to remain constant.

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“I don’t think it works like that,” he said, when asked if he will change anything to help fill the void. “I think you are who you are. You don’t try to be someone you’re not.

“I think I’m just going to be who I am, and I’m hoping the guys can do the same.”

If he is hoping, it is likely the guys will try to remain unaffected in response to Zetterberg’s franchise buffeting departure.

“Sure, there’ll be some of the guys that maybe feel that they can take more room in there, step up and say things when they need to,” said Kronwall, who first played with the Red Wings in 2003-04, and who won the Stanley Cup 180 regular-season games into his 874-game career.

“But, I think that it’s going to come down to hard work, and we’re going to have to do it together.”

After a vigorous practice Friday, Kronwall said he hopes to play in two or three preseason games.

He also said he is encouraged by several young defensemen on the preseason roster.

Their role may be even more important than anticipated, with Mike Green possibly missing the start of the year with an illness.

“I think the young guys have really been pushing for jobs, anyway,” Kronwall said.

“They’re pushing. They’re coming.

“The pressure to play well is on a lot of the older guys, as well. So, the better the competition the better we are.

“And, I think it’s probably going to come down to the last game, and management’s going to have to make some decisions.”

As for his prospective performance this season, Kronwall sounded encouraging.

“Last year was the first year in some time the I felt I was able to somewhat move, again,” he said. “And, I’m hoping to build off that. It’s been a good summer training. I’ve been able to do what I needed to, and what I wanted to.

“And now, it’s just going out there and competing, again.”

The mentoring Kronwall, Green and Trevor Daley can provide to prospects could prove invaluable.

“They are very different, but they’re all very good in their own way,” Kronwall said of prospects like Dennis Cholowski, Joe Hicketts, Filip Hronek, Vili Saarijarvi and Libor Sulak, who distinguished himself Thursday, versus the Blackhawks.

“So, I think that’s encouraging that you don’t have four guys who basically have the same mold. You have four or five, or whatever it is, that are very different personalities, and also on the ice.

“So, I think that’s very, very encouraging for the organization.”

As for his entry into the lineup, Kronwall is targeting a few preseason games.

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“Well, I’m hoping to get a few in, actually, and then we’ll go from there,” he said. "Get the feel for the game, again.

“It’s been way too long of summer. So, you’d like to get a few in, to get it going, again.”

Coach Jeff Blashill has complimented the leadership of the team since he became head coach, June 9, 2015, and has said it remains strong, even without Zetterberg.

“I would say Nick is Nick, and I’m fine with that,” Blashill said, after running different groups of Wings through three practices Friday. “Not that we won’t have conversations.

“But, I think when Z’s not here, I think it’s probably easier for some of those guys to step up into leadership roles. I think a lot of times they deferred to Z, out of respect to him and the fact that he was the captain. So, Nick’s a natural leader. He doesn’t need to overthink it, he just needs to be who he is.

“The only difference is that there isn’t a guy a step ahead of him, in that leadership role.”

Twitter @greggkrupa