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Red Wings Season Preview: Kronwall/Stuart

Moving farther up the defensive depth chart, today we look at the Red Wings 2nd defensive pairing in Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart.  Niklas Kronwall is the 29-year old 6-foot, 189-pound Swedish freight train patrolling the blue line for Detroit.  He's coming into his fifth full season with the Wings after being drafted 29th overall in the 2000 NHL entry draft and paying his dues developing with the Grand Rapids Griffins.  Kronner is in the fourth year of a five-year deal that brings his cap hit in at $3 million.  His defensive partner is the remarkably square-headed stalwart Brad Stuart.  Stuart is 30 years old and stands at 6'2", 213 pounds.  Something of a journeyman during his 12-year NHL career, Stuart was drafted 3rd overall in the 1998 entry draft by the Sharks.  He played six seasons for the Teal Chokers before being sent to Boston in a package deal that sent Joe Thornton the other way.  After being traded to Calgary the following year, Stuart signed a free agent contract with the Kings where he later became a trade-deadline acquisition of the Red Wings for a 2nd-rounder in 2008 and a 2009 fourth-rounder.  Stuart is now in the third of four years under contract with the Wings that pays him $3.75M.  Stuart's earlier years have been categorized as a disappointment considering his draft ranking, but he has found a home in Detroit on the 2nd defensive pair where he fits his expectations marvelously.

Last Year's Benchmark: The Red Wings' 2nd-pair defensemen were hit hard by a knee injury to Niklas Kronwall suffered at the hands (or legs, rather) of Georges Laraque, the waste of space who's now currently out of hockey.  At the per-game pace Kronwall and Stuart had for the games they played, their 164-game point totals would have seen them split 14 goals and 39 assists with an overall -9 rating and 68 penalty minutes.  Average ice time was 23:32 with 1:46 on the PP and 2:41 short-handed.  These numbers are still kind of low for what fans have come to expect from these two, but there are a few mitigating factors at play here.  Our 2nd-pairing is among the most solid in hockey for physical presence, defensive capability, and offensive prowess.  I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that plenty of teams out there would like to have either of our 2nd-pair guys playing their top minutes.  Let's take a look at each of these guys individually for what we expect to see in the upcoming season.

Niklas Kronwall

#55 / Defenseman / Detroit Red Wings



Jan 12, 1981

2009-2010 Stats










Kronwall is racking up a scary track record of knee injuries and the big concern is that it's going to cut his career much shorter.  He's already said that his knee injury from last year has left the joint feeling "weak" and that it's been buckling at odd times while he's been trying to move.  Arthroscopic knee surgery done on Tuesday, August 31 found a tear in the lateral meniscus in his left knee, which Ken Holland states should leave him ready to start training camp on the 18th.  He has never played an 82-game season.  Last year, Kronwall was among the league leaders in points for defenseman when he went down with injury.  He came back still injured and never really regained his form. 

Strengths: Kronwall's a game-changer.  He can join his teammates in the rush up ice or stop his opponents' on the rush at their own blue line.  His reputation as an open-ice hitter precedes him, making guys go just that little bit slower coming out of their zone as they try to track him so he doesn't end their night early like he did to Marty Havlat in the 2009 Western Conference finals.  He's pretty much the only Red Wings defenseman I trust right now to dangle a guy at the blue line and create offensive chances and his vision and shot selection are wonderful.

Weaknesses: Kronwall's the weak link defensively in his pairing and sometimes that shows.  His decision-making in the offensive zone is great, but he's not always in good enough position to properly defend and, for all of his power with the momentum of open ice, he can't clear big bodies from in front of the net.  Interestingly, only Jonathan Ericsson had a worse rating for penalty minutes per game played.  This shows he's apt to mistakes in his own end.

Expectations: I hope we get 70 games out of Kronwall, but I'm afraid it'll be 60 or fewer again with the most recent news about his knee.  In the games he does play, I want his half-a-point-per-game pace to stay constant.  That means we're talking at least 30-40 points.  If this worry over his knee ends up no big issue, he could break out and notch 50+.  I also expect him to pop a guy's head clean off in the neutral zone at least once.

Brad Stuart

#23 / Defenseman / Detroit Red Wings



Nov 06, 1979

2009-2010 Stats










Stuart was, quite simply, a defensive beast for us last year.  Playing all 82 games, Stuart at several points during the season was singled out as the Red Wings' best defenseman.  It's almost unfair showing only the stats we are, because I feel that in the crease, Stuart had a better save percentage than Steve Mason in Columbus.  He really opened the toolbox last year and tried to fill every role the Wings needed, even spending more time on the rush and taking shots than ever before.  His offensive numbers were lower than they should have been if the Wings had been healthy, but his contribution can't solely be measured by quantifiable means.  His -12 rating doesn't do him justice here.

Strengths: Stuart puts up numbers where he can, but his real strength is in his own zone below the faceoff circles.  He's very good at battling behind the net without losing his man or his position.  He uses his size very well to keep people out of the crease and, in a bind, he's capable of blocking a wide-open goalmouth.  He doesn't always get the credit he deserves for how much freedom he gives Kronwall to do his offensive and neutral zone thing.  The fact that he only took 22 minutes in penalties last season is a reflection of his great skill.

Weaknesses: Stuart sometimes tries too hard to block shots.  As most goalies will tell you, "if you can't block it, get out of the way so I can see it." You don't see too often where he screens his own goalie, but it's obvious when it happens.  He's also known to wander out of position trying to lay a big check here and there.  Finally, for a guy his size, you'd figure his slapshot would be much more powerful.

Expectations: Stuart's 20 points in 82 games will go up.  I'm thinking his threshold will be closer to 30 with the improved offensive depth in front of him.  He'll continue to fit his role on the 2nd pairing perfectly.  When he's not noticeable is when he's at his best.  I predict a record low for "Damnit, Stuie" moments this year.