John Niyo and Ted Kulfan take a look at the Red Wings at the one-quarter mark of the NHL season. The Detroit News
Detroit – Almost a year ago now, Filip Hronek was in Grand Rapids, learning and maturing as a professional hockey player.
Hronek had made the Red Wings’ roster out of the exhibition season, but it was mainly due to the flurry of injuries that hit the Wings’ defense. Otherwise, Hronek would have been in the minor leagues from the opening drop of the puck.
But there was something that coach Jeff Blashill saw in Hronek that was encouraging during the preseason and first six games of 2018-19, prior to his demotion.
Then, Blashill continued to get positive reports on Hronek from the Griffins staff.
“It’s a testament to him that when he got sent down, he didn’t pout,” Blashill said. “He went down and got better.”
So much better that around midseason Hronek was back with the Red Wings. And by the end of the regular season, the way Hronek had played with the Wings, he was being looked upon as one of the core pieces in the Wings’ organization going forward.
Last spring, Hronek led all defensemen with 11 points in 10 games at the world championships, playing for his native Czech Republic, another sign he was ready to flourish.
Nothing this regular season has changed that estimation.
Hronek, 22, leads the Wings’ in ice time (22:33), is fourth in scoring (10 points, first among defensemen), he has three power-play goals and he plays on both specialty teams.
“I wasn’t disappointed, but of course I wanted to stay,” said Hronek last week, talking about early last year when he was told he was returning to Grand Rapids. “But when I got back (to GR), I was trying to get better every game.”
After drafting Hronek in the second round in 2016, the Wings were hopeful he would develop into an NHL defenseman.
Now, it’s fair to expect Hronek to continue to evolve into that elite top-pair defenseman that so many NHL teams covet.
With Danny DeKeyser on the injured list the past couple weeks, and likely another couple weeks more, Hronek has taken on even more responsibility and has played some of his best hockey.
“He’s been thrust into, probably, too much ice time because of the injury to DK (DeKeyser), but we don’t have lots of guys that are ahead of him," Blashill said. "So he has to bite off tons of minutes, hard minutes, but he’s doing a good job with it.
“Would I like to have him maybe backed off a bit (ice time)? Yes, probably, at his age. But he’s also pretty mentally tough.”
Blashill often talks about Hronek’s "bulldog mentality," both on and off the ice.
On the ice, despite his 6-foot, 183-pound frame, Hronek doesn’t back down from larger opponents. In fact, his ability to agitate was on display recently against the Boston Bruins, as Hronek drove noted agitator Brad Marchand to the point of distraction.
“It was clear that line (the Bruins’ high-powered line with Marchand) was frustrated and Fil and Nemo (Patrik Nemeth) didn’t give them much,” forward Dylan Larkin said. “That’s the way he (Hronek) has to play and he’s willing to play like that. It’s great to see a young player come into our lineup and make an impact in all facets of the game.
“He battles every night.”
That’s part of that “bulldog mentality" that Blashill speaks about.
“When I yell at him, he takes it,” Blashill said. “He has a good skill set, he’s real competitive and he’s mentally tough. Those are good attributes.”
Hronek is relishing the extra minutes these games with DeKeyser unavailable and believes it’s helping his progress.
“It helps my confidence,” Hronek said. “Playing a lot, playing in all situations, for me, it gets me easier into the game. It’s nice having the coaches’ trust, that I can play a lot.
“I’m just trying to keep playing and get better.”
Blashill likes to point to current NHL players for certain Wings to emulate. With Hronek, Blashill often has mentioned Calgary’s Mark Giordano, who won the Norris Trophy last year as the NHL’s best defenseman.
What Blashill sees is similar physical characteristics, and the way Giordano goes about his business.
“Somebody that defends well, is hard, isn’t super big or fast, but is able to defend well, and put up a lot of numbers and runs a good power play,” Blashill said. “Mark’s had an excellent career and he’s only gotten better as the years have gone by.
“Fil looks like a guy who could build into a top-four defenseman. Can he become Mark Giordano? I don’t know that. But nobody thought Mark Giordano was going to be Mark Giordano 10 years ago."
Added Blashill of Hronek: “I like where he’s at. The future is real bright with him.”