Niklas Kronwall has been huge for the Detroit Red Wings this season.
Without Lidstrom on the team, it was a legitimate question to ask how Kronwall would handle the additional pressure of being the top defenseman. If the early season has been any indication, he's passed with flying colors.
Kronwall's statistics on the surface are extremely impressive. He is the leading NHL defensemen in overall points with 16 (three goals and 13 assists). Kronwall's productivity is what you might expect from a forward rather than a defenseman, as he is averaging 0.84 points per game.
Kronwall's previous high was in the 2008-09 season when he averaged 0.64 per game. While chances are his points per game average won't remain above 0.80, it looks that Kronwall is capable of setting a career high in points per game.
To fully appreciate Kronwall's contributions, consider that out of the 16 points he has scored this season, 10 of them have come from the power play. The power-play points will be very important throughout the rest of the season, as the Red Wings currently sit at 19th place in the NHL for power-play goals with a 16.5 percent success rate. Without Kronwall quarterbacking the power play, the Red Wings' production could be even more feeble than it already is.
Kronwall is averaging a career high of 23:50 minutes per game of ice time, which is over a minute more of ice time this season compared to last. He appears to be getting stronger as the season goes on, with six points in his last two games.
The one blemish on Kronwall's performance this season is that he has a minus-four rating—the worst of his career. However, that statistic is misleading due to all the injuries the Detroit Red Wings currently have and because Kronwall is learning to build a relationship on the ice with a new partner.
How many points do you think Niklas Kronwall will end up with at the end of this season?
Kronwall lost his longtime partner on the ice, Brad Stuart, when his rights were traded to the San Jose Sharks this past offseason. Without Stuart, Kronwall has played with a few defensemen but he is meshing well with his current partner Jonathan Ericsson. In the past two games, Kronwall is a plus-five and will continue to improve upon that number.
It appears that at 32 years old, Kronwall is maturing into a smarter player by realizing his importance to the team defensively. While in the past Kronwall would try and go for a big hit that sometimes caused him to be caught out of position, he is hitting less. He now only has 16 hits on the year, which puts him on a very promising pace for the fewest hits per game of his career.
Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg told Brendan Savage at MLive.com about Kronwall's contribution this season:
"He's been great for us all year," Zetterberg said of Kronwall. "He's logging a lot of minutes, he plays in all situations. So when he gets points and goals, all the guys are really happy for him because he's working hard for it."
While no player can ever fully take the place of Lidstrom, Kronwall has proven that he can be the team's No.1 defenseman and is a worthy successor.
*All statistics are as of Feb. 24