Red Wings’ Filip Hronek is letting it rip and playing the best hockey of his career


DETROIT — Filip Hronek is not one to seek out the camera. One of his claims to fame — or rather, fame avoidance — around Little Caesars Arena is that he managed to go the entire pandemic, and both seasons of hockey it encompassed, without doing a news conference. That’s quite the feat for any NHL player, much less a defenseman logging 22 minutes a night for an Original Six team.

But right now, Hronek is playing so well that the cameras and microphones simply can’t be kept away. On Friday, he scored his sixth goal in the past six games in Detroit’s 4-3 shootout win over the Coyotes, and he added an assist to bring him up to 18 points in 20 games this season — which puts him in the top 10 among all NHL defensemen this season.

So, after all those minutes logged out of the spotlight, he walked into the interview room Friday night, flanked by teammate Lucas Raymond, to take his turn.

Fittingly, the first question he got was about all the offense Detroit is getting from its defensemen. Even beyond his own hot streak, the Red Wings have also had goals from blueliners Moritz Seider, Jordan Oesterle, Ben Chiarot and Jake Walman in the past four games alone.

“I think we’re playing better, like (as) a hockey team,” Hronek said. “Forwards (are) using us, that’s why we are getting into the chances and we are playing good all around.”

But Hronek has been the biggest part of that, with his six goals this season already topping his 2021-22 total of five.

“It’s like everything he shoots (is) going in,” Raymond said of Hronek. “Everyone knows he has a great shot. He’s been getting it off now, and I guess everyone’s seeing it now. I feel like we’ve seen it for a long time. You see it every time we practice. It’s fun. Just trying to feed him the puck.”

Hronek has always been productive as an NHLer, and through his first four seasons you could set your watch to his scoring somewhere between .46 and .50 points per game — strong production by any measure, and certainly consistent.

But during the past two weeks, especially, he’s been on a tear. And to be clear, when a defenseman goes off to this degree, there’s no illusion that the pace itself is sustainable. Hronek is converting on 13 percent of his shots, which would be on the high side for the average forward, let alone a defenseman.

Raymond is right, though: This isn’t coming out of nowhere, either. Hronek’s shot has long been one of his best assets, and right now he’s letting it rip.

His six goals have come on 46 shots on goal, which is over half a shot on goal per game (2.3) above what he was averaging last season (1.71). Even knowing shots won’t keep going in to this degree forever, he’s helping his cause with volume alone.

“He’s assertive with his game,” head coach Derek Lalonde said. “Last game, power play, head down, pounded the puck — it was the right play. Same thing today, power play where it’s (a) broken play off the rush, head down, post-in. … I just think guys go through stretches in their game, (where) just they’re really confident. But again his overall game is good, putting himself in these positions. I think how well he’s playing I think is giving him confidence, and you see that when it comes to his offense.”

To Lalonde’s point, it’s not just offense that Hronek is bringing right now. He entered Friday’s game with by far the best five-on-five expected goals share of his career, checking in above 50 percent for the first time, according to Evolving Hockey. And that total will go up once Friday’s stats are rolled in, after Detroit had nearly 70 percent of the expected goals while Hronek was on the ice against the Coyotes. He’s turning in the best defensive numbers of his career, too.

Hronek was asked Friday night if this was the most confident he’s felt in his NHL career, to which he replied, “Yeah, I am confident. It’s more (that) I’m feeling like our team is better, and everything is going well for us right now.”

That team factor can’t be overstated in all this, because Hronek’s first four years in the league came in some tough situations. In 2019-20, his second season in the league, Detroit was the worst team in the NHL. Hronek was asked to eat nearly 24 minutes a night that season. Help was hard to come by for the young defender, and the losing can’t have helped morale much.

Hronek is still playing a huge role, mind you, averaging 22 minutes a night this season — but there’s a lot more around him to better position him, too. His partner this season, Olli Määttä, has given the perfect blend of defensive reliability and puck moving to allow Hronek to play his game. Those two are also not constantly getting thrown to the wolves, with Seider and Chiraot able to take on tough matchups as well.

And, as Hronek said, things are going well for the team. Detroit has won four straight games, and although the real tests are still ahead, the wins have made for a good environment in the early going.

Lalonde pointed out earlier this week that after Hronek missed an assignment that led to a goal against in Los Angeles, he felt the defenseman took it personally and went to get it back for his teammates — and he did, with a goal and an assist. On Friday, when Hronek took a big hit behind the net, teammate Michael Rasmussen stepped in to defend him, fighting Arizona’s Jack McBain.

Hronek went on to assist on Detroit’s first goal of the night, then scored the second on a one-timer. He was named the game’s first star, and, yes, had to break his streak without a news conference.

It wasn’t a long session, mind you, and Hronek didn’t say a ton, either.

But he didn’t have to. Right now, his play is saying it all.

(Photo of Filip Hronek checking Arizona’s Jakob Chychrun: Duane Burleson / Associated Press)


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