2018-19 was the season that finally saw the Red Wings bring up a few of their most prized defensive prospects. One of those, and the one who saw the most significant time, was Filip Hronek. One of Detroit’s two second round picks in 2016 had quickly rocketed up through the minor league system and made his debut out of training camp in October at the age of 20, playing three separate stints in between time in Grand Rapids totalling just over half of the season with the Red Wings.
There’s only one season to go off here, as this was Hronek’s rookie year. Still, his numbers were quite impressive, posting 23 points in 46 games for an even 0.5 points per game average, which ranked him second in that statistic among rookie defensemen who played more than 10 games, behind only Rasmus Dahlin (and ahead of Miro Heiskanen). He also tallied a respectable 5 goals in those 46 games on a sustainable 6.8% shooting percentage and in some cases, showed off a rocket of a slapshot that proved to be a potent weapon on the power play, leading to the 5 power play points.
Perhaps the most promising metric for Hronek’s trajectory is his very strong possession (Corsi) numbers. While his 49.6% CF% isn’t all that great, it’s important to remember he played on a dreadful possession team, which is why you need to compare it to his teammates. The 49.6% CF% was good enough for 5th on the team and the best by a Red Wings defensemen. Indeed, his 3.75% CF% Rel. indicates that the Red Wings possessed the puck 3.75% more when Hronek was on the ice than when he was off of it, which is actually very good, the fourth highest mark on the team and again, best among defensemen. Putting his 3.75% CF% Rel. number in context, Hronek posted the 19th highest CF% Rel. by a defenseman in the entire NHL (!!!) among those who played at least 300 minutes. In general, it’s a pretty predictive stat in indicating quality defensemen, since the 18 names ahead of Hronek on the list include Erik Karlsson, Kris Letang, Mark Giordano, PK Subban, John Klingberg, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Seth Jones. From the perspective of possession analytics, Hronek was incredibly good this season.
Hronek posted a -10 GF total and thus a 41.67 GF%, which again, is not good in a vacuum, given that it means that the opponents were scoring more than the Wings when he was on the ice. But looking to compare it to his team, we see that once again, Hronek was better than his teammates in this category, posting a 2.91% GF% Rel. This was 2nd on the team in defensemen who were regulars, behind only Danny DeKeyser and is significantly better than say, Jonathan Ericsson, who posted a ghastly -11.49%. So while this wasn’t great, it also wasn’t awful for Hronek either.
Here we’re using the graph from evolvinghockey.com charting Hronek’s relation to the league average in various metrics, some of which we have already discussed. As you can see, Hronek’s best asset was possession, with his defensive Corsi For (5v5) being well over one standard deviation above the mean, and his offensive Corsi For (5v5) is also very solid. What surprised me about this chart, however, was that Hronek was a bigger asset defensively than he was offensively in 5v5 play. This doesn’t jibe all that well with Hronek’s profile as an offensive defenseman who posted a 0.5 points per game average. Yet, his expected goals against was nearly a full standard deviation above the mean, while his expected goals for was well below the mean. This suggests that if Hronek can up his offensive game to meet his prospect profile in even strength play, he could be an excellent two-way defenseman, given his defensive game graded out so solidly already. The second graph to the right notes that Hronek was fine but unspectacular in his limited power play time in 2018-19.
For this, we’re using both Corsica Hockey’s Player Ratings and Game Score via hockeystatcards.com to see how evaluative metrics graded Hronek. Corsica Hockey gave Hronek a respectable 73.38 grade, which puts him at 50th among right defensemen in the NHL, which is an unspectacular but solid mark. That grade was 2nd on the team behind only Mike Green and ranks solidly in the pack among rookie defenseman. He received Game Score of 0.42, which again was just a tad behind Mike Green for 2nd on the team, but is also a very solid number, ranking him in the top 5 of rookie defensemen as well.
As this season showed, Filip Hronek needs to be on the Red Wings roster the entire season next year. Not only did he torch the AHL when he played for Grand Rapids (27 points in 36 games), indicating he has nothing left there to accomplish, but he was quite literally one of Detroit’s 2 best defensemen this year, if not the best, despite being a rookie. I fully expect the coaching staff to recognize this and so I expect Hronek to play his entire season in Detroit in 2019-20.
In all likelihood, Hronek will play the most minutes on the team next year, probably on a first pair with Danny DeKeyser, and he will feature on both the PK and the PP. While I could see his numbers increase somewhat due to being a more experienced NHL player in his second season, the fact that the Wings aren’t adding that much new offensive talent leads me to believe his numbers won’t go up a ton. So, across roughly 80 games, I think it’s very reasonable to expect he scores in the 40-45 points range, with higher totals possible if he continues his rapid development.
Before I hand out the grade, I do want to take a second and point out just how difficult what Filip Hronek was asked to do this season was. Hronek played 46 games in the NHL across three separate stints, with 36 AHL games in the regular season + playoffs mixed in. That is insane. It is not easy to get called up and sent back down once, let alone three separate times, because by the time you re-adjust to either the NHL or the AHL, you’ve been switched again. And not just that, but on Hronek’s third and final stint with the Wings, he played through a 13 game stretch in which he logged 23:44 minutes of ice time per game. As a rookie who had only played 26 NHL games at that point. Even for the full season, his average TOI was just a shade under 20 minutes, good enough for third in the league among rookie defensemen, just below Miro Heiskanen and Rasmus Dahlin.
While the Red Wings largely sheltered Dennis Cholowski by starting him in the offensive zone 61% of the time, Detroit took the training wheels off Hronek quickly, as his oZS% was 46.9%. Even Rasmus Dahlin got to start in the offensive zone 58.9% of the time. The Red Wings didn’t just bring Hronek up, they threw him into the fire.
Amazingly, despite all that the Red Wings asked Hronek to do, he still managed to post very respectable, and in some cases (Corsi), excellent numbers. This past season we began to get a glimpse of what Filip Hronek has the chance to become and it’s hard not to start to get excited, especially with the show he’s been putting on in the World Championships right now. For this season’s grade however:
He didn’t set the NHL on fire or anything but the degree of difficulty in what he was asked to do for the Red Wings was remarkable and to still grade out as an average NHL defenseman who was one of the team’s best as a rookie is genuinely impressive. If he were a 30 year-old posting these stats, then this grade would be in the C range, but I’m curving it based on expectations and the reality that Hronek was only a rookie and he played a key role in the Red Wings’ hot streak to end the season. If this season was the floor of what Hronek could be, then Detroit might have itself a very good defenseman on their hands.