Filip Hronek has been a rock for the Red Wings this season.
Heading into Thursday’s game in Carolina he and fellow defenseman Marc Staal were the only players who’d been in the lineup all 51 games.
Barring anything unforeseen over the final five games, it would be an achievement to not miss a game in this pandemic-ravaged schedule.
Hronek has been dealing with various bumps and bruises. He didn’t practice earlier this week, taking a maintenance day. But he was back in the lineup Tuesday in Columbus.
In what has been another tough season Hronek, 23, further solidified himself as a piece in the Wings’ rebuild with his determination.
“A solid season,” coach Jeff Blashill said, assessing Hronek’s work. “I don’t think any of us can claim we’ve had a great year. We’re not good enough in the standings. But he’s done a solid season.
“It’s just growing as a player and he certainly has taken steps from when he first got here (two seasons ago). But like all of us, if we want to be a better hockey team, the individuals on that team have to continue to grow.”
The Wings came into the season wanting to reduce Hronek’s ice time a bit, possibly keeping him fresher for the long term.
That hasn’t worked out as Hronek’s 23:30 average is slightly above his 22:39 overall average, and just a tick off last season’s 23:54 average.
It points to Hronek’s value, playing on both on the power play and penalty kill, and usually facing the opponent’s top forwards.
“He’s grown and Filip wants to be a good player, wants to win, so he’s working (toward that) and in all areas of the game, the power play, penalty kill, 5-on-5,” Blashill said. “There are areas of growth and he knows what he needs to keep working on.”
Not making the defensive mistake that leads to opponent scoring chances and progress on the power play are two areas Blashill would like to see Hronek grow.
“Him and I have talked about making sure that he eliminates any big minuses,” Blashill said. “You just can’t be a team that gives away easy (scoring) chances. So make sure on a consistent basis, night to night (not allowing those chances). He’s done a good job of not giving away easy chances.”
The power play, where Hronek has nine (all assists) of his 23 points this season, is another area were his improvement could spark a resurgence,
“It’s not on one guy, it’s on the five guys out there and certainly every guy has their own responsibility within that,” Blashill said.
The Wings thrust Hronek into a top-pairing role from an early age. Hronek has learned and adapted, grinding through the tough spots and positive ones.
Given Hronek’s hard-nosed mentality and competitiveness, the development process may help going forward.
“He’s been forced to really trial by fire and he’s been thrown into the mix, and it’s hard to do,” Blashill said. “You don’t have a veteran defenseman who can carry you as you make some mistakes, and he’s had to sink or swim on a nightly basis.
“(But) enough nights, he’s swam.”
Forward Adam Erne was placed on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list and was not in Thursday’s lineup.
It’s the second time this season Erne has found himself on the list. Erne missed eight games in January last time.
It’s unclear how long Erne could be out this time.
Erne is tied for the team-lead for goals scored with 11 (tying the traded Anthony Mantha), and his 19 points are one away from tying a career-high.
With only five games left, time is running out for forward Robby Fabbri to return.
Fabbri hasn’t played since April 3, and though he’s been doing some light skating and working with the team, he hasn’t been cleared to get into games.
Fabbri is dealing with an undisclosed upper body injury, after having missed time in January due to COVID-19.
“He’s going to start to run out of runway here, too,” Blashill said of a potential Fabbri return. “He’s been day-to-day but as we’re getting closer here (to the season’s end), we’ll see.”
Fabbri, and Erne, are part of a lengthy list of injured Wings’ forwards.
Dylan Larkin, Bobby Ryan, Frans Nielsen and Tyler Bertuzzi have all been ruled out for the remainder of the season.