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What’s Behind Filip Hronek’s Scorching Begin?

Of all of the early season storylines which have come out of the Detroit Purple Wings’ high quality begin to the season, maybe none are extra stunning than the play of Filip Hronek. The 25-year-old has performed a few of his finest hockey of his life through the first two months of the season, tallying 4 targets and 14 factors by his first 18 video games. And he is doing all of it whereas enjoying sound, accountable protection.

It is a good change of tempo for the oft-maligned blueliner. Hronek’s offensive promise has typically been overshadowed by runs of defensive lapses and turnovers. In order that begs the query, what’s been completely different this season?

Hronek is Dominating His Personal Finish

Let’s begin with one of many largest enhancements, Hronek’s protection. In prior seasons, Hronek’s play in his personal zone has typically been a legal responsibility, particularly when it got here to stopping possibilities straight across the Purple Wings’ web.

Hronek’s defensive heatmaps at 5v5. The areas with darkish shades of blue signify areas the place Hronek has prevented opponents’ scoring possibilities. The darkish shades of purple signify areas the place Hronek has allowed opponents’ scoring possibilities at a excessive fee.
Micah Blake McCurdy – Hockeyviz.com

This 12 months, nonetheless, Hronek has flipped the script, changing into one of many league’s BEST at stopping high quality scoring possibilities. Of the 178 NHL defenders who’ve performed a minimum of 150 minutes this season, Hronek ranks nineteenth by way of fewest high-danger possibilities allowed at 9.37 per 60 minutes. He that ranks forward of gamers like Cale Makar, Adam Fox, Devon Toews, and Miro Heiskenen, and simply barely behind Jaccob Slavin, who many analysts laud as maybe the perfect defensive defenseman within the NHL proper now.

A part of that might be the truth that Hronek has extra assist in his personal finish. His major accomplice, Olli Maata, is far-and-above a greater defensive defenseman than any of Hronek’s companions in prior seasons (Maata, in reality, is twenty fourth on the listing of fewest high-danger possibilities allowed.) Maata’s accountable presence has allowed Hronek to play the extra aggressive, urgent fashion he desires to play with out having to fret whether or not his accomplice is backing him up.

Nonetheless, do not low cost Hronek’s personal enchancment on this regard. His positioning of him has been higher, and he is accomplished a greater job of shifting and adjusting to remove passing and capturing lanes.

He is Controlling the Puck Higher

Perhaps one of many extra irritating points of Hronek’s sport the previous few seasons has been his incapacity to regulate the puck at key instances. We frequently noticed key turnovers at inopportune instances attributable to Hronek’s lack of situational consciousness, attempting to do an excessive amount of in a zone entry alternative, or simply not executing that first cross out of the defensive zone.

There’s nonetheless room for enchancment in that regard, however Hronkek has taken a step ahead this season. He is gone from a fee 2.94 giveaways per 60 minutes three seasons in the past to 1.17 this season. Whereas that also might appears excessive, that fee truly places him within the prime quarter of NHL defensemen this 12 months.

Filip Hronek Puck-Possession Statistics

season CF% xGF% Giveaways/60
season CF% xGF% Giveaways/60
2019-20 44.64 40.76 2.94
2020-21 47.39 45.39 1.42
2021-22 46.19 44.61 1.61
2022-23 51.07 60.01 1.17

Statistics courtesy NaturalStatTrick and Evolving Hockey

Having higher management of the puck has allowed Hronek to… effectively… truly management the puck. His CF% and xGF% of him are above 50% after ending effectively under that mark for the previous three seasons, which suggests — basically — the Purple Wings are getting extra possibilities with Hronek on the ice than they’re giving up. And when you will have a participant as offensively gifted as Hronek, any further time he can get with sustained stress within the offensive zone is more likely to bear some fruit. And talking of…

Hronek’s Consciousness Is Enhancing

As talked about, Hronek’s offensive skills have been by no means in query when judging his skillset as a participant. He is confirmed he’ll go “full YOLO” to attempt to make an offensive play, typically on the expense of his defensive tasks. This 12 months, nonetheless, Hronek’s accomplished a greater job at selecting and selecting his spots to be aggressive.

Hronek’s objective towards the Sharks is a chief instance. Within the play, you see him staying on the proper level till David Perron and Oskar Sundqvist win possession off the dump-in. At that time, the Sharks forwards begin drifting in direction of the left-wing board, leaving the appropriate facet of the ice wide-open. It is at THIS second that Hronek decides to leap into the play, taking Perron’s feed and capitalizing on what was nearly a 1-on-1 versus James Riemer.

One other prime instance got here within the Boston sport. Right here we see Hronek hovering across the circle prepared to leap into the play. Nonetheless, he anticipates the Bruins profitable the puck battle alongside the left boards and begins to skate backwards, able to transition to his back-check. That is when Craig Smith tries to throw a break-out cross to the middle of the ice. As a result of he is forward of the play and holding the circulation of play in entrance of him, Hronek acknowledges he is in a greater place to get to the puck than the Bruins’ ahead, and steps as much as preserve the puck within the zone, resulting in the Adam Erne objective.

Under is yet one more instance of Hronek’s potential to learn and anticipate the play resulting in a Purple Wings objective. On this clip towards the Rangers, Hronek is definitely main the push try. After a profitable zone entry, he dishes the puck over to Pius Suter. Typically instances, gamers will dangle again after this primary cross to attempt to give the puck-carrier a passing lane, however on this case, Hronek acknowledges Larkin is becoming a member of the push behind him. As a substitute of hanging again, Hronek truly accelerates between the 2 Rangers’ defensemen, and since they should pinch in to account for him breaking in in direction of objective, Suter has a wide-open cross to Larkin, who places a fast shot in on Halak. Hronek and Suter are there to corral the rebound and get Detroit on the board.

So… Can Hronek Maintain This Up?

It is solely November… approach too early to lock any speak of a “career-best” season in everlasting ink. That being stated, there’s a lot about Hronek’s sport that, on the very least, appears sustainable. His decision-making is healthier and his analytics show his career-best scoring begin is extra than simply “puck luck.” It additionally helps that the crew round him is significantly better than in years previous (and nonetheless have PLENTY of room to develop,) which suggests he’ll doubtless have extra assist on each ends of the ice.

The large query shall be on the defensive finish of the ice. Because the season progresses, and Detroit’s opposition will get more durable, Hronek shall be tasked with slowing down faster, sharper offensive groups. The following few weeks function matchups towards the likes of Tampa Bay, Florida, Toronto, and Vegas, all groups whose depth will problem the Wings’ second D-pair. How Hronek does in these video games will doubtless check simply how far he is are available his defensive growth from him.

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