While the Detroit Red Wings have some promising young forwards that showed a lot of spark in 2019-20, the place where they lack the most is their defense. They had one of the oldest defense cores in the NHL, including 3 defensemen in Mike Green, Trevor Daley and Jonathan Ericsson who were over the age of 34 and on expiring deals. Fortunately for Detroit, they did have one young defenseman step up and have a big 2019-20. That man is Filip Hronek.
Hronek came into 2019-20 as the most exciting defenseman to start the season in Detroit. The former second round pick out of the Czech Republic would be getting his first full season in Hockeytown while the sixth overall pick from 2019, Moritz Seider, was destined to spend the season with the Grand Rapids Griffins. Let’s take a look at what led to Hronek’s breakout season as well as what’s to come for the former 53rd overall pick.
A quick rise to the show
When Filip Hronek was drafted, he didn’t have the hype as some of the other players we’ve reviewed. Part of that was his pick followed the pick of Dennis Cholowski. Cholowski, of course, was drafted following the trade of Pavel Datsyuk‘s contract. At the time, Red Wings fans were more focused on potentially signing Steven Stamkos with their newfound cap room than some second round defenseman.
However, Hronek would go on to earn some hype after his first season of juniors. In 2016-17, he played for the Saginaw Spirit in the OHL where he would shine. He had 14 goals and 47 assists in 59 games which was fourth among OHL defensemen and second on the team. He was also the only player for Saginaw to average over a point a game. Detroit immediately signed him after the season and would end the year playing 10 games in Grand Rapids.
The following season would be his only full season in the AHL. He finished fifth on the team in scoring with 39 points as the team finished second in the Central Divison. In 2018-19, he would go back and forth between Detroit and Grand Rapids. Despite only playing in 46 games, he would finish fourth in the NHL among rookie defensemen in scoring. It was that offseason, however, where his hype would come.
Hronek would play for the Czech Republic at the 2019 IIHF World Championships. He would lead all defensemen in points with 11 points in 10 games. The IIHF and media both voted him as the top defenseman in the tournament. Just like that, it looked like Detroit had the puck moving d-man that they hadn’t had since Nicklas Lidstrom retired. Let’s take a look at how that would he looked in 2019-20.
First half MVP
In the previous three reviews, I discussed the hot start to the season that both Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi had. This hot start wasn’t exclusive to them as Hronek came roaring out of the gate with them. In his first 22 games, he had 13 points and was just 10 points off his total from his rookie year. He was also getting an insane amount of ice time, even reaching 27:18 in a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on November 21st. He had clearly emerged as the number one defenseman in Hockeytown.
Much like Bertuzzi, Hronek would go on an offensive slump during the month and a half that Anthony Mantha was out injured. He would go six games without a point and was a staggering -11 in those games, all losses for Detroit. But he would bounce right back with six points in his next six games. This included his best offensive performance of the season; a three-point game against the Winnipeg Jets on December 12th.
When it came to the All-Star break, most Red Wings fan would argue that Hronek had been their best player and should be the All-Star representative. However, due to limited defensemen able to make the team, Hronek was left off and Bertuzzi made the team. But that didn’t take away from the great offensive start to the season that he had. With 26 points by the All-Star Break, he looked ready to improve upon those numbers.
The offense dries up
At the All-Star break, Filip Hronek had scored nine goals. When the season ended, Filip Hronek had scored…nine goals. He scored his final goal of the season on January 14th against the New York Islanders. Yes, you read that right. January 14th.
Over the rest of the season, the Red Wings leading defenseman scorer would manage just five assists. His +/-, which was one of the better ones on the team at -21 despite leading the team in ice time, plummeted to -38. Only Valtteri Filpula and Andreas Athanasiou had a worse +/-.
While his offense had disappeared, his ice time certainly didn’t. In an 11-game stretch from January 20th to February 15th, Hronek’s lowest total ice time was 24:23. In the second half of the season, he only went under 20 minutes twice. The first of these games, he got a 10-minute misconduct for instigating. The other game, he left with an injury. He ended the season 18th in the NHL at 23:54 a game.
The question then becomes: Did he run out of gas? His rookie season, Hronek averaged under 20 minutes a game. This was an unprecedented number of minutes and games for him. Can I say definitively that this was the reason for his drop off? No, I can’t. But that seems like as good of a reason as any.
The #1 defenseman of the future?
Throughout this review, I’ve talked a lot about Hronek’s offensive stats and his scoring. The one thing I haven’t really touched on is his defense play and there’s a reason for that. First off, it’s hard to judge him entirely defensively based on who he is playing with. However, it became clear this year that defense is not the strength of Hronek’s game. He had just 1.5 Defensive Point Shares (DPS) which came in at 241st in the league. He was also third on the team which shows how bad the whole team was defensively.
With that in mind, we ask the question: can Hronek be the team’s number one defenseman? I would say no because of how Yzerman seems to want to run this team. He wants players who can play both offense and defense and there are two prospects who can do that who were drafted last year: Mo Seider and Antti Tuomisto. Seider is someone who the fans in Hockeytown can be excited to see next season. Meanwhile, Tuomisto could be coming over from Finland to Grand Rapids in 2020-21 as well.
None of this is to say that Hronek can’t be huge contributor for the Red Wings when they’re competing again. He’s an excellent puck mover with a great shot and is someone Detroit fans should expect 50 points from every season in his prime. The biggest question will be about his ice time. Will his minutes go down when more young defensemen make the jump? And if it doesn’t, will he run out of gas again? Those will be Hronek’s biggest things to look for going into 2020-21 and beyond.
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