J.J. kicked things off on Monday and Graham will wrap up the week this Friday (Hi Casey!), but today is Wednesday and it's my turn to bring the second player preview post to our faithful WIIM readers. We've taken a look at the the back end of the defensive depth chart and today we begin our look at the top 4. Whether it's the western Canadian who played on the top pairing last season or the Swedish bulldozer lining up his next victim, both these men will be in the lineup every night and will be expected to step up and contribute at a higher level this season.
Last Year's Benchmark: The former pair combined for a 57 points, +9 rating, and 44:24 ATOI. Niklas Kronwall put a career hight 11 goals and his second highest point total ever in 37 points (although it wasn't close to his career high51 points in 2008-09). Brad Stuart only posted 20 points (5 points below his career average) and matched his point total from 2009-10. However, he played 15 less games last season. The former solid No. 2 pairing will be leaned on heavily this upcoming season to play the roles of defensemen No. 2A and 2B.
20 points might not see like a lot and it isn't, but I'm genuinely encouraged by that number. Seeing that Stuart was able to put up near his career average (as previously mentioned) while still missing 15 games last season is a positive sign. It helped that he was paired with Nicklas Lidstrom
for a majority of the season last year. He was on his way to his highest point total since the 2005-06 season before he got hurt. He was the rock of the defense with Lidstrom last year and should prove his worth again.
Weaknesses: Stuart is not the most gifted specimen on the offensive end. He is not a guy that you fear when he winds up for a slap shot. That doesn't mean he can't make plays offensively, but it's not his forte. Finally, he nearly doubled his penalty minutes last season compared to 2008-09 and 2009-10.
Expectations: Stuart should average between 21-25 minutes per game and will likely play with Kronwall or Lidstrom again. With a small increase in ice time and potentially some time on the 2nd power play unit, I would expect Stuart to hover around the 30 point mark this season and be in the range of a plus-10.
After missing some time in the 2009-10 season, Kronwall bounced back with a solid campaign last season. He was still off his career high in points, but easily passed his career high 7 goals by posting 11. Five of those goals came on the power play, which was also a career high. I think those numbers foreshadow his success this upcoming season.
Kronwall is offensively gifted. He'll make the outlet pass to leave the zone. He'll join the rush. He can make plays happen in the offensive end. He's got the skills to be an excellent defenseman on both ends of the ice. Kronner will also step up and crush you if given the opportunity and the time is right. We've seen it many times before and we will surely see it again. And he hits like a freight train, just ask Ryane Clowe
, Teemu Selanne
, and Martin Havlat
Weaknesses: When Kronwall jumps up in the rush or into the offensive zone, sometimes he can get caught pinching and that can hurt the team at times. Same thing when trying to line up one of his big hits. If he misses, he's out of position. He's by no means bad at defense, but his game isn't the best in his own zone when looking at all three phases of his game. He was still very solid for the team last season and improved from his 2009-10 campaign.
BIG...Big expectations for Kronwall heading into this season. With the loss of Brian Rafalski
, the team is losing 48 points offensively. It's up to guys like Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, and Ian White
to pick up the slack. Kronwall is the guy with the biggest expectations on his shoulders to step up. He's going to get a ton of time on the No. 1 power play unit and his career high in goals and PPG is an encouraging sign moving forward. I expect a least 10+ goals and 50 points from Kronwall. If he can keep his penalty minutes in the 20-35 range for the season and his plus/minus on the positive side, the 30-year-old is posed for this best season ever.
* * *
Today it was about the two guys that need to elevate their games on the blue line and pick up the slack for those we lost. We're two thirds the way through the defense now and stay tuned Friday (Hi Casey!) for as we take a look at the ageless Nicklas Lidstrom and the newcomer Ian White.